How many Metro area neighborhoods can fund, build, own and operate a $4.3 million recreation center? I know of just one – Beaverton’s Oak Hills. On June 24 its Homeowners Association opened the gates to a rebuilt complex with a 5-lane swimming pool, kiddie pool, gym, locker room, meeting room, kitchen, playground and administrative office.
Though unusual, the achievement is of a piece with the neighborhood’s history. At its founding in 1965, Oak Hills was billed as “Oregon’s most complete family community.” Along with the rec center, its 240 acres are home to:
- A highly rated elementary school
- A church that also runs a preschool program
- A 33-acre greenway with soccer fields, baseball diamond, walk/bike paths and open spaces
- 627 detached homes, 29 of which are historic Rummers, Portland’s contribution to Mid-Century Modern architecture
- 4 townhouse clusters
- An RV parking space screened by mature trees and shrubs
- A community garden for growing fruits and vegetables
An early example of master planning, the development served as a model when Washington County developed its land use regulations. And no wonder. As planners and architects know, built environments have a big impact on attitudes and behavior. When neighbors have lots of opportunities to rub shoulders in their daily routines, community spirit grows.
By 2011, the slogan “This place matters” had become a rallying cry for Oak Hills. The County planned to widen Bethany Rd, which runs right through the middle of the neighborhood. In part to block the plan, residents took on the challenging task of applying for historic designation, including winning HOA approval by a wide margin in May 2012. Though the County eventually proceeded with the road project, in July 2013 Oak Hills became – at age 48 – the youngest community in Oregon and one of the youngest in the country to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The road to rebuilding the rec center proved even longer and steeper. Efforts to improve the original complex started as far back as 1992, but failed to garner the two-thirds approval needed in a vote by the HOA. By 2014, the center had reached a crossroads. Key systems were at or near the end of their useful lifespans. Any repair involving a county permit would have triggered a cascade of costly code requirements and closure of the facility until all were met.
Though the issue had taken on new urgency, skepticism about finding an affordable yet high-value solution was unchanged.
“Community members were not about to write a blank check,” comments David Boyd, Vice President of the HOA Board and a 19-year resident of Oak Hills.
In particular, they balked at paying hundreds of thousands of dollars up front for a detailed design they might not like or that could prove too costly to build.
“We didn’t take the traditional design-bid-build route,” Boyd explains.
Instead the Board thoughtfully phased research, consultation, planning, decision making and investment. Step by step, they were able to maximize transparency, build confidence and manage risk.
Early on they approached bankers to estimate the cost per household of different loan scenarios and found that a modest $50 per month would cover a ceiling north of $4 million.
In meetings and surveys, community members gave input on the features they wanted in a center. Their opinions shaped 3 broad conceptual designs that went through a ballpark costing exercise by a contractor. The community weighed in on the 3 options in another survey, and the Board selected the one favored by a majority. Only then was the design fleshed out in more detail, a contracting bid accepted, and a loan of $4.225 million negotiated.
With these key elements in place, the Board submitted a proposal to the community in the summer of 2015. It was approved by a vote of 82 percent. Construction began the following summer and was completed in a year. Throughout the process, Boyd and other volunteers on the building committee kept a sharp eye on project costs and made adjustments to stay within budget. Overruns came to only about 3 percent, an excellent result in the building industry.
Close-knit and can-do, Oak Hills offers good living. In fact, it’s part of the zip code (97006) that placed 9th on a list of 15 most in-demand Metro neighborhoods published by OregonLive last week. With the rec center rebuilt and in enthusiastic use, that ranking stands to rise.