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It is time to build new aquatic centers in Medford

The time has come! Sixty years ago the Hawthorne swimming pool was completed. Fifty years ago, Jackson pool opened. At that time there were fewer than 25,000 people living in Medford; now, over 77,000 people make their home here. Hawthorne Pool is closed and Jackson is probably not far behind.

When I was appointed to the Medford Parks and Recreation Commission 20 years ago, the swimming pools were a major issue. Community surveys conducted for the Leisure Services Plan put a new indoor aquatic facility as the number one priority. In the mid-1990s, several commissioners and local advocates developed a bond issue to build a new indoor facility at Hawthorne Park. It failed, but not by much.

Requests were made during "better times" to repair and improve the pools, but other demands received higher priority. Consequently, the city maintenance staff has done an incredible job to keep the pools functioning each year. Well, we have run out of time.

Last year the Medford City Council appointed an Aquatics Steering Committee, consisting of members of the City Council, the Parks and Recreation Commission, the Parks Foundation, a member of the Competitive Swim Team Board and several people from the community. The committee carefully studied 36 different design options and recommended that the city:

  • Remove Hawthorne and Jackson pools.
  • Construct a new 4-acre aquatic center at Bear Creek Park with infrastructure that will facilitate future growth. It would include a lazy river or wave pool and 3 acres of new parking plus infrastructure to add the other major features later as the community grows.
  • Construct a 25-yard by 50-meter pool with seasonal cover at Jackson, which can be used year-round for recreational use as well as competition. Both facilities can provide swim lessons, water therapy and recreation programs.
  • Include a recreational splash pad at Jackson.
  • Build a properly designed dog park with separate fenced areas for small and large dogs.
  • Build a new BMX park near the Little League fields and enhance parking.

Through the years the Medford Parks and Recreation Commission has made several recommendations for new aquatic centers in Medford, but finding a way to fund it was always a major concern. We unanimously support the 2011 Steering Committee recommendation and believe the time has come to move forward.

We considered replacing the existing pools since they have been inadequate for years. That cost would be $8.5 million. Replacing them as they are and bringing them up to code and ADA standards would still not meet current needs, let alone future needs.

Two private developers studied building a water park here but they decided not to proceed because the cost of land and escalating liability insurance would be too high for them to guarantee a profit. The city owns the land and we just need the citizens to recognize all of the benefits these improvements will bring and choose to make the investment. Since making a large profit is not a priority we can keep admission prices low.

Why build the aquatic facility or "water park" — why not just build a new pool?

Most swimming pools do not cover operation costs. The city annually subsidizes the two Medford pools at $250,000 for five months of use. A new, year-round, 50-meter complex could require a larger subsidy Studies have shown that a "water park"-type facility will generate income that could help pay for the pool complex as well as provide a substantial tourist attraction.

People are concerned about trying to build a new aquatic facility in this difficult economy, but we feel that this is an ideal time to consider this type of development. Construction prices are extremely competitive and many new jobs would be created during construction. The completed facilities also would create full- and part-time jobs and attract additional visitors and tournaments, much like the $20 million in economic benefit U.S. Cellular Community Park has provided to the community since 2008.

We believe it is time for the people of Medford to promote and support a bond issue in 2012 that will build facilities that will improve livability and health, attract tourists and be real assets to the community. It is time.

Jerry MacLeod is chairman of the Medford Parks and Recreation Commission.