Parks District Director Mark Hickok examines the Hood River Aquatic Center's  aging pipe system; just one of the reasons why the facility is due for a replacement. 

With the Hood River Aquatic Center building well past its usable lifespan, the Hood River Valley Parks and Recreation District (HRVPRD) is still working on a way to make a brand new facility, with an added community center, a reality.

“We’re just kind of kicking the can down the road right now with this facility in order to keep it running,” said Mark Hickok, HRVPRD manager, in a presentation to the port commission on Oct. 8.

After a 2017 study revealed that the facility — originally built in 1948 — had about five years left of serviceable use before the cost of maintenance exceeds the cost of replacement, HRVPRD went to the community and presented three options for dealing with the building’s failing state: Creating a new building and keeping the same pools; a new building with new pools; or a new building with new pools, redesigned to include a community fitness center.

Community members strongly favored the third option, despite the fact that it was the most expensive of the three — though the official numbers haven’t been worked out, Hickock estimates that the total cost of the project would be close to $25 million. “We got a lot of feedback that we wanted to build a nice, big replacement facility … they want to see more of a community center and more amenities.”

Around the same time, HRVPRD was working on its Multi-Jurisdictional Parks, Recreation & Open Space Plan, a document that details the district’s mission and goals for the coming years, “And we decided, there’s a lot more needs than just the pool,” Hickok said.

The parks district was founded in 1988 specifically to maintain and operate the pool. Since then, HRVPRD has taken on a number of recreational programs, trails and parks, but its tax rate has stayed at 34 cents per $1,000 assessed property.

“We’re doing a lot with very little,” Hickok said.

HRVPRD decided to formulate an ask that would allow them to build a new pool facility, complete a trail buildout and some park work, and increase the district’s level of operations. Doing so would raise the tax rate to approximately $1.40 per $1,000 assessed value.

To do that, HRVPRD would have to go to the voters and ask for a bond with an added operational levy that would expire every five years, which Hickok said causes some concerns about future sustainability.

But HRVPRD is leaning towards a somewhat riskier proposal: Dissolve the current parks district, and reform it with the new tax rate. Voters would be asked to “Vote Twice for Parks” and presented with two codependent measures: One to dissolve the district and a second to reform it (both measures would include a “suicide clause,” Hickok said, so neither measure could pass without the other also being approved). 

If both measures pass, HRVPRD would be able to choose how much of the tax rate they would bond against, and they would be able to alter that amount as needed.

“It gives us much more flexibility to be more sustainable in the future,” Hickok said. Though the district has not definitively decided on a funding route, Hickok said the board members are strongly leaning towards this option.

 “This is a risky thing. There aren’t a lot of districts that do this and it’s a big ask for the voters to ask them to give us a permanent tax rate rather than something that they renew each year,” he added. “But we’re looking at the sustainability of the district and what’s best for parks for the future.”

While HRVPRD has discussed the possibility of taking over parks and recreation for the entirety of Hood River County, Hickok said that the possible expansion would not be part of this ask.

If everything goes well, Hickok said, the measures would appear on the November 2020 ballot. From there, it would take HRVPRD a year to finish planning the new facility and another year for construction, with the pool reopening in 2023.

“If we wait longer, we can hope that we can continue putting the pool together — we’re pretty good at band-aiding and fixing it,” Hickok said. “But it’s continuing to cost us more and more money to repair.”

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