July 16, 2008

Lake Oswego School and City Officials Seek to Lessen Tensions Over Swim Park

By Wendy Owen, The Oregonian, Portland, Ore.

Jul. 16--LAKE OSWEGO -- The Lake Oswego School District is known for working with community committees on topics from sex education to preventing bullying. But no one told thousands of people who pay taxes for an Oswego Lake swim park -- controlled by the school district -- that they might not be able to swim there next summer.

Word got out when folks visited two weeks ago for a swim on a hot day and found five maple trees tagged for removal. The maples, along with tall firs, shade the Lake Grove Swim Park, where generations of residents have spent their summers picnicking, feeding ducks and splashing in the private lake.

School and city officials got an earful from residents disgruntled that their play area could be shut down with little say in the matter.

"It's really shocking tonight to see what we missed," said David Miles, during the district's first public presentation on the issue Tuesday. "It seems some wool was pulled over our eyes."

While children talked about missing Fourth of July fireworks at the park next summer, some adults suggested the city buy and tear down houses for access rather than close the swim park.

But city and school officials appeared to ease some tensions among the 100 people gathered in a hot school cafeteria by announcing potential plans to keep part of the swim park open. An official decision won't be made until later this month.

School Superintendent Bill Korach took responsibility for the lack of communication. "We probably should have sent a letter to everyone in the swim-park area when we started talking (to the city)," he said.

Here's the background: The city is planning to build a $100 million sewer line, part of it floating below the surface of Oswego Lake. The city needs a staging site for a crane, sewer pipes and other equipment, and city engineers determined the swim park offered the best access.

However, school officials couldn't immediately offer the site because it was deeded to the district in 1954 by Oregon Iron & Steel Co. The company restricted use of the property to residents in the former Lake Grove School District boundary.

The boundary includes about half of the Lake Oswego School District -- thousands of people -- who pay $133,000 annually in taxes for upkeep of the swim park.

Because access to the private lake is limited mostly to homeowners around it, other city residents covet sites like the swim park. A second site on the east side of the lake is open to all residents.

School officials, citing legal and property issues, consulted with attorneys and negotiated an easement deal behind closed doors with the city to use the swim park. It requires the city to leave the park in better-than-original condition, including installing underground sprinklers and planting replacement trees.

This is where communications with the public fell short. The school district and the city each assumed the other would tell swim-park users about the construction staging plan.

Meanwhile, the city invited 50 neighbors, who have their own lake access, to a meeting about the visual impact from the equipment. Only one person showed up.


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