Renovation of the Daniel Meyer Pool at Hunter Park is Ashland Parks & Recreation's top priority, parks officials said at join meeting of the City Council and Parks Commissioners on Monday.
The pool in its current form is not deep enough or long enough for competitive swimming and water polo and cannot be used in winter due to the fact that it’s entirely outside.
The parks department has long received encouragement from competitive swim teams and the Ashland School District to upgrade the pool since it is the only available swimming facility this side of Medford. But the various iterations have fallen through over the years, according to Parks Director Michael Black. He first tried to save Southern Oregon University’s McNeal Pavilion pool in spring 2016, but the city would have had to commit to pay to build and maintain the pool in a time frame that didn't allow for a feasibility study. He tried partnering with the YMCA regarding their pool and that was also a no go. He even approached the school district to create a temporary “bubble” over the pool, but the cost of $200,000 for a temporary solution didn’t interest anyone.
“It’s possible to expand the pool to the size and depth for tournaments. We’re looking at the current infrastructure,” said Black of the latest plan which would cost roughly $3.5 million.
The plan would be to lengthen and deepen the current pool, plus create an area for a recreational swim during laps and competitive swims. The parks department would acquire a small open area next to Walker Elementary for parking and expand the pool into what is currently the parking area.
Black discussed putting a levy before the voters to raise the money for the pool expansion and refurbishment which would include an all-weather cover to be used in winter. “It would be exactly like the structure for the ice rink. In summer, the fabric would be taken off,” he said.
Councilor Rich Rosenthal suggested going further. “The Senior Center building is antiquated. I would encourage you and the (parks) commission to look at going after $4 million and make it more of a community center, that might be a better bang for the buck,” said Rosenthal, who also suggested making the pool more of a draw for greater use than competitive swimmers. “Any new facility needs to be combined with revenue in mind, like slides for the kids that you can charge a premium to offset costs.”
He suggested tha, if done correctly, the pool could become another option to bring people into Ashland for the day. “This is an opportunity for Ashland to seize upon an amenity that brings people to town.”
No decisions were made by either parks commissioners or councilors. The purpose was to update both on the latest thinking from the department.
Black also presented the Parks Department desire to acquire the 890 acres belonging to the city of Ashland referred to as the Imperatrice Ranch Property bought by the city of Ashland in 1996 to use as a wastewater drain field. That intention never became necessary and so the property north of town on the east side of Interstate 5 remains undeveloped.
Suggestions have circulated about possibly siting a large solar field on the property to help the city meet its goal of 10 percent of its energy being locally and sustainably generated by the year 2020, but the council has yet to decide on that.
In the meantime, the Parks Department voiced its hopes to make the property part of a larger trails system connecting to the Grizzly Peak trail. In addition, Black, along with representatives of the Southern Oregon Land Conservancy, presented information about natural grasses, migratory species and unique flora and fauna in the area which would be preserved.
It’s their intention to purchase the land with the help of the SOLC. When asked by Mayor John Stromberg why the department would purchase the land from the city as opposed to asking for it, Black explained that it could not be given the land. “Because the land was purchased for wastewater treatment through Enterprise Funding, we’re not asking the city to deed it to parks,” he explained.
Enterprise funding has restricted uses. In this case, leaving the particular land in tact for trails is not among the intended uses. In some cases the City Council can decide otherwise, but Black is not asking for that to be done.
No decisions were made.
The Parks Department, like all departments in the city of Ashland, is under scrutiny as the city considers its two-year budget. “We have a balanced budget which we will present," Balck said. "We will offer all services with no major cuts and no major increases.”
— Email Ashland freelance writer Julie Akins at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/@julieakins.