The Medford Parks and Recreation Commission examined four separate studies before deciding earlier this month to recommend $21.7 million in park improvements, including a water park at Bear Creek Park and a 50-meter competitive pool with a seasonal cover and splash park at Jackson Park.

The Medford Parks and Recreation Commission examined four separate studies before deciding earlier this month to recommend $21.7 million in park improvements, including a water park at Bear Creek Park and a 50-meter competitive pool with a seasonal cover and splash park at Jackson Park.

The proposed pool and water park would replace the city's more than 50-year-old community swimming pools at Hawthorne and Jackson parks and provide venues for recreation and competitive swimming.

The water park would include a play structure, wave pool, mat racer and slide pool. The proposed recreation package also includes a new dog park at Hawthorne Park and a new BMX bike track at Bear Creek Park. The existing pools at Jackson and Hawthorne parks would be closed under the proposal.

Supporters of the package say Medford's role as a regional economic hub makes it a natural spot for a water park, which would enhance quality of life in the region and provide another constructive activity for young people.

If the Medford City Council approves, the project's fate would be left up to voters, who would decide whether to approve the $21.7 million bond measure.

The first feasibility study of a water park, conducted in November 2008 by Medford's REMI Northwest, suggested the city's least-expensive option would be to close the pools at Jackson and Hawthorne parks and build a 12,000-square-foot regional water park with two water slides, a "current river" and interactive play features with capacity for about 400 people at a time.

The study indicated ticket sales of $5 for residents and $6 for nonresidents during a 100-day season would cover most of the park's operating and capital costs, with the city subsidizing the park with about $51,000 per year. That appeared to be good news, given that the city now pays $250,000 annually in maintenance, upkeep and operations at Jackson and Hawthorne pools, largely because of chronic leaks.

But Brian Sjothun, parks and recreation director, said city officials were concerned the study had overestimated attendance at the park, thereby inflating the revenue estimates. The study had assumed that visits to the park would range between 168,995 and 190,801 per year for an 80-day season, depending on the park's size.

In May 2010, the city commissioned a second study by Medford's ORW Architecture, in association with Counsilman-Hunsaker, to conduct a second economic study and provide conceptual designs for various water-park options.

That study, which assumed fewer annual visits with a $6 entry fee for adult residents, $9 for adult nonresidents and discounts for children, based on an operational season of 80 days, suggested admission revenue would pay for operating costs but would not cover any of the debt to build the water park.

Sjothun said parks and recreation officials disagreed with the premise that the park would operate for only 80 days, estimating that Southern Oregon's sunny weather would likely provide a 100-day season.

The following month, the city commissioned REMI Northwest to conduct another economic study. REMI lengthened the water park's season to 100 days and found that the water park would cost the city $250,000 per year after admission revenues, the same amount it now pays each year to maintain Jackson and Hawthorne pools. REMI Northwest assumed there would be 241,171 visits to the park during the 100 days, with an average admission fee of $4.49.

Sjothun was skeptical of the firm's projections for attendance and asked for another opinion.

In December 2010, parks and recreation officials asked Portland's Leland Consulting Group to conduct a fourth study. That study indicates admissions would pay for the cost of operating the water park and partially subsidize operational expenses at the pool at Jackson, which have not yet been determined. However, taxpayers would still have to bear the cost of building the park.

Leland's study estimated an attendance of 129,500 to 153,500 during a 100-day season, with fees of $10 or more for adults and a discount for children. Parks and recreation officials reasoned that the water park could charge $10 per person as long as Jackson pool continued charging a low entry fee for those who couldn't afford the water park.

u

None of the studies addressed the cost of operating the competitive pool and splash pool at Jackson Park. City parks and recreation employees and Medford's ORW Architecture plan to analyze those costs in an upcoming study, which is due in about eight weeks, Sjothun said.

Frank Hoeper, a member of the Parks and Recreation Commission steering committee that came up with the recommendation, said the committee wanted to address the city's need for a competitive swim venue, as well as the opportunities for a water park.

He said it's unclear whether City Council will let the proposal progress to the ballot.

"If Council doesn't like this proposal, we'll go back to the drawing board," he said.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or e-mail pachen@mailtribune.com.