In place of a single $13.3 million recreation center in Centennial Park, a task force recommends building an indoor pool and a neighborhood recreation center at separate locations.
The city should focus on building a new indoor pool, either in Centennial Park or adjacent to Free State High School, the Mayor's Task Force on Recreation Alternatives has decided.
Also recommended: Build a new recreation center in west Lawrence, find a location for a skate park and continue to buy land for the future parks.
The task force's report doesn't have all the answers -- cost estimates, specific locations and detailed design work are not included -- but it should jump start a public dialogue that died nearly a year ago, when Lawrence city commissioners abandoned plans for a $13.3 million community recreation center in Centennial Park.
Last year, hundreds of people opposed the recreation center's size, cost, location, features and other items, but Mayor Bonnie Augustine hopes to garner public support this time around.
Splitting the community recreation center into two parts -- and moving their features to two separate locations -- could be enough to address the community's needs, even if it likely will cost more than $13.3 million, Augustine said.
"I don't think it really solves the dilemma, but it's a step in the right direction," said Augustine, who appointed and served on the task force. "This isn't the end by any means."
Commissioners are scheduled to discuss the task force's report during their regular commission meeting, at 6:35 p.m. Tuesday at city hall, Sixth and Massachusetts. Public comment will be accepted before commissioners make any decisions.
Pool is top priority
The community's top recreational priority should be building a new indoor aquatic center, the task force determined. The center would include a 25-meter pool, plus a family pool -- the same layout planned for the abandoned Centennial Park Community Recreation Center.
Two years ago, architects estimated the cost of a 25-meter pool, plus family pool, at $5.2 million. A 50-meter pool, with family pool, would have cost nearly $6.6 million.
No decisions about design and cost will be made until commissioners and members of the public have had a chance to talk about the idea in public, Augustine said.
For her part, however, Augustine wants the aquatic center building in Centennial Park, at the southeast corner of Sixth Street and Rockledge Road.
"With the family pool area, having a more central location is important to me," Augustine said. "I think a lot of the downfall of the (community) recreation facility was the massive size and the cost. If the (indoor) pool would be located there, I could see it nestling in a little better ... and the cost wouldn't be in the $13 million range."
Putting the pool adjacent to Free State High School might appeal to Lawrence school district officials, she said, but its location in the "northwest corner of town" is a turnoff. And Augustine's already heard plenty of complaints from Lawrence residents who can't get enough pool time for lap swimming at the Carl Knox Natatorium, a joint city-county project at Lawrence High School.
Schools weigh in
Craig Fiegel, an assistant superintendent for the school district, remains hopeful that commissioners will put the pool adjacent to the high school. Offering classes next door would be more convenient than requiring students to ride buses 10 minutes each way to and from Centennial Park.
"If it's off campus, by the time they get to the pool and then back to school you've wasted a school period," Fiegel said. "To make it an effective part of the curriculum, it needs to be close."
District officials originally planned to build their own pool at Free State, but took it out to cut costs before putting the school's bond issue up for a vote. By then, the district had agreed with the city's plans to build an indoor pool as part of the recreation center at Centennial Park.
If city officials choose Free State as the site for their new pool, Fiegel said, the district would provide the land, the city would build the aquatic center and the two governments likely would share in the operational costs.
"We'd love to work with them on that," Fiegel said. "For us, it would be a nice thing. We'd love to see that happen."
Next priority: Rec center
The task force also recommended building a new recreation center with gym capacity and an indoor track for walking and jogging. No site was recommended, but previous discussions have touched on "Dad" Perry Park, or even the current home of Corpus Christi Catholic Church, 1100 Kasold, which is planning a move to West 15th Street.
Augustine said the western side of town was the only one not currently served by a nearby recreation center. Only time -- and money -- will tell when that situation will change.
"If we do the aquatic center, we won't be ready to do that for many years," Augustine said.
The recreation projects are to be financed using revenues from the 1-cent countywide sales tax approved by voters in 1994. The city already has spent more than $700,000 to finance consultants, pay architects and hire a construction manager for the failed Centennial Park project, but officials remain hopeful that some of the work can be used for upcoming projects.
Augustine remains optimistic. She appointed the eight-member task force four months ago, after a committee of commissioners couldn't come up with alternatives following last December's rejection of the center in Centennial Park.
"Not doing anything isn't the answer," she said. "We need to get off center on this project. We need to move on."
-- Mark Fagan's phone message number is 832-7188. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.