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Our Opinion: Swimming on borrowed time

Medford parks officials say they think they can keep Jackson Pool operating for a few more years, but when it inevitably reaches the end of its life, city residents will have a decision to make. Do they want to live in a city of 76,000 people that refuses to provide even one public swimming pool?

Voters were not inclined to provide two in 2012 when they voted down a $14.5 million bond levy proposal that would have replaced Hawthorne and Jackson pools. Hawthorne was closed in 2011 because it was leaking 30,000 gallons of water a day and could not be repaired. It was removed last year as part of the renovation of Hawthorne Park.

Jackson, opened in 1960, is not quite as old as Hawthorne, which was built eight years earlier. But Jackson, too, is showing its age. The most recent casualty: a 20-year-old slide that had become unsafe and had to be removed. It may be replaced if money can be found in the city's budget.

Meanwhile, city residents who use Jackson may find long lines, or be turned away on busy days. Jackson was seeing more than 25,000 swimmer visits a year when the levy failed two years ago; demand will only increase from there as the city continues to grow.

City parks and recreation officials initially proposed a $25 million plan to build an aquatics park, but residents objected to the price tag. So the proposal was scaled down to $14.5 million, enough to build two standard swimming pools, one covered for year-round use.

Voters still rejected that proposal, 55.4 percent to 44.6 percent.

The city will continue to keep Jackson operating as long as possible, but at some point it will no longer make economic sense, and Jackson will close as Hawthorne did.

The 2012 pool levy proposal drew criticism from opponents who questioned why a private operator had not stepped forward to provide aquatic recreation. The answer is simple: To make a profit, private operators would have to charge more for admission than most people would be willing or able to pay. That's why some government functions cannot realistically be provided by the private sector.

The public apparently understood that in 1952, when Medford was home to 17,305 people and Hawthorne Pool was built; or in 1960, when the population was 24,425 and the city built its second public pool.

Today, one of those pools is gone and the second will be gone before long. Perhaps then, Medford voters will decide that public swimming facilities are something a city the size of Medford ought to provide.