August 19, 2006 - In the next decade, the town of Oro Valley wants to turn a hilly gravel pit on Naranja Drive into the recreational envy of every town around.

The dream site, called the Naranja Town Site, will include sports fields, a theatre, a fitness center, a music pavilion, a community center, a skate park, a pool and a water park, a BMX racing track, a nature center, a dog park, walking paths and grassy lawn for festivals.

Architects briefed the Oro Valley town council this past week on the site's preliminary design and amenities. They also projected it will cost $100 million to make the site a reality.

The briefing, at the council's Aug. 9 study session, was the first time architects addressed the council since they started to plan specifics of the site about two months ago.

The town completed the purchase of the 213-acre recreational hub in 1997. Since then, community groups, town staff and the town council brainstormed what the site should include.

The groups settled on what the town calls a master plan, which roughly outlined and designed the buildings and open space that will make up the park.

Architects at Burns Wald-Hopkins, the same company that planned the Oro Valley library, examined the master plan in June of this year to determine its feasibility and cost.

David Wald-Hopkins, president of the company, showed the council concept designs and photos of other recreational sites in Denver the architects hope to emulate.

The town site used to be home to an asphalt plant and a barrow pit. The architects said they are planning buildings on areas of the site that have already been environmentally damaged, and will save the less developed areas for open space.

Wald-Hopkins said the most challenging aspect of the site is determining what kind of music pavilion will best suit the town.

The master plan called for an amphitheatre, but Wald-Hopkins said consultants recommend a multi-seasonal pavilion instead. He said it allows for open air ventilation during pleasant months but still be partially insulated for colder months.

"Usually, I'm asked to build music pavilions in more benevolent climates, like in the Northeast," Wald-Hopkins said. "This is an unusual opportunity, but a fantastic opportunity."

The 500-seat theatre is projected to be the most expensive feature in the park at about $350 per square foot. But Ainsley Reeder, town parks and recreation director, pointed out that the $14 million theatre is one of the site's features that will recover some of its costs through venue rentals and ticket sales.

The community center, which will rent space for weddings and events, the fitness center and water park will also recover some construction costs through user fees.

The architects recommended building some facilities near each other so they can share a lobby or gathering area. The community center and theatre, for example, are connected in one concept design and close to each other in another.

The town council is not sure how it will pay for construction of the site. Members discussed splitting the cost between two bond issues, which would enable the council to build the site in two phases.

The cost to voters would average around $168 per year for about 25 years, said Stacey Lemos, town finance manager. That number is based on 15,086 homes worth $250,000 each.

As the number of houses in the town increases, the bond burden will lessen for each household, Lemos said.

But the longer the town waits to build, the more construction costs will go up because of inflation, Wald-Hopkins said.

Councilwoman Paula Abbott said she is concerned that if the council puts a bond issue to the residents to foot the site's bill, some may not support all facilities designed in the plan. She said she fears that because the community center is a high priority to many residents, but the theatre is not, she doesn't want to see the whole project fall if voters opt against the theatre.

"I think they will need to be stand alone items," she said.

Abbott said if the council plans the construction in phases it must be careful deciding what to build first.

Councilwoman Helen Dankwerth agreed, saying the council will need to prioritize the needs and desires of the citizens.

But first, Abbott and Dankwerth said the town must get the word out about Naranja.

"A lot of people don't know about the master plan, or even the site," Dankwerth said.

But several swim coaches and staff at the pool in James D. Kriegh Park on Calle Concordia said they know about the Naranja Town Site.

Swim coach Stan Valcer said he wants to see the town provide funding to keep the James D. Kriegh pool open year round before it pours millions of dollars into the Naranja site.

"I don't know why they want to spend millions of dollars on that site when they can't take care of what they already have," Valcer said.

The 50 or so children and teenagers who swim year round have to go to Continental Ranch or Flowing Wells to swim for two months in the winter when the pool closes, he said.

Valcer said he and his swimmers have wanted to get the pool open year round for years, but the town parks and recreation department always tells them that the council will not pay for it.

Reeder said those two months are the most expensive of the year. She also said it's closed to give employees a holiday and to repair the facilities.

Ann Rodriguez, an Oro Valley resident who was walking the track Sunday at West Lambert Lane Park, said she hadn't heard of the Naranja Town Site or any plans to develop a new multi-recreational park.

But she heard something about the town possibly building new softball fields, which she said are in dire need.

Rodriguez's daughter, Sarah, plays fast pitch softball in Oro Valley. She said she new teams are forming but there is concern about practice field space.

William Fritz, an Oro Valley resident also using the park's track on Sunday, said he had heard something about the town site, but didn't know any details.

He said he thinks the town needs a new town site for recreational use and office space.

"All that just goes along with progress and growth," Fritz said. "Progress is unavoidable."

Fritz said he couldn't say whether he would support a bond initiative to pay for the park site until he saw what the town was planning to do with the land.

The architects said they will finish the eight-month programming stage of the plan in December, and will address the council again at that time.

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