Lawrence's next indoor aquatic center will include a 50-meter competitive pool -- a lap pool twice as big as previously planned, at an increased cost of $2 million.
After making a collective flip turn, Lawrence city commissioners agreed to build a new $9.5 million indoor aquatic center to include a 50-meter competitive pool.
The decision, coming Tuesday night on a 4-1 vote, effectively poured another $2 million into a project considered the city's top priority for new recreational areas. Previously, at least four commissioners had wanted to spend $7.5 million to build a center with a 25-meter competitive pool.
``We cannot cut corners on a facility and expect it to be attractive and bring in the number of people we need it to bring in,'' said Commissioner John Nalbandian, who had advocated building a smaller center until changing his mind Monday night.
Mayor Marty Kennedy went one further. The city's past four or five recreation projects have cost less than anticipated, he said, and the indoor aquatic center should be no different.
``As the mayor of Lawrence, I will guarantee that this one will come in under budget,'' Kennedy said during the meeting. ``It will come in closer to $9 million.''
The city's hired architects estimate that the center, as proposed, would cost $9.58 million. That much money would produce a center with a lap pool measuring 50 meters by 25 yards, plus a bleacher area with 500 seats, locker rooms, a concessions area and a multipurpose ``birthday room'' that could be rented out for parties.
The center also would include a separate ``family pool,'' which could include features such as whirlpools, slides, current channels, fountains and zero-depth entry areas.
Although not included in the estimated costs, commissioners told architects to figure on including an adjustable bulkhead in the competitive pool. That way the pool could be separated into sections, to allow a meet to be conducted on one side without disturbing recreational uses on the other.
Architects also estimate that the center could lose as much as $300,000 a year in operational costs, or twice as much as the smaller center's estimated subsidy. Commissioners said that could change, however, by approving higher fees for using the center.
``But I want the fees to be reasonable and not cost-prohibitive,'' Commissioner Bonnie Augustine said.
Commissioner Bob Moody was the lone commissioner to vote against the plan, saying it was too expensive. He had advocated cutting back in the building's design, and setting the project budget at $8.5 million.
``We have many other needs we need to address,'' Moody said.
Even with the size settled, many decisions loom ahead for the pool. One will be its relationship with the Lawrence school district.
The center is to be located just northwest of Free State High School, on property owned by the Lawrence school district. While the district has supported the pool's location, the Lawrence school board has not yet made any formal decision about its compensation for the city's use of the property.
Commissioners don't appear worried.
``I don't anticipate real problems there,'' Nalbandian said. ``The big decisions are done.''
Concerns about the project's cost melted away after an intense, informal lobbying campaign by organized swimming groups. The Lawrence Aquahawks, Lawrence Master Swimmers and Kansas University swim teams all had supported going with a 50-meter competitive pool.
Dulcy Sellon, a past president of the Aquahawks and a current member of the master swimmers, walked the streets five years ago, knocking on doors to get out the vote for approving a 1-cent countywide sales tax that she had been promised would finance a new 50-meter pool.
That promise was reaffirmed yet again Tuesday night, and this time she's confident it will be realized. Sales-tax revenues once again are set to pay for the pool's construction, and likely its operations as well.
``This is a dream come true,'' Sellon said afterward, as friends and fellow supporters celebrated around her outside city hall. ``Now we really are on our way.''
Bob Frederick, athletics director at Kansas University, attended Tuesday's meeting but did not speak to the commission. He previously had noted the values of a 50-meter competitive pool -- about how it could improve recruiting for the KU swim teams, provide valuable practice space on a long course and give the growing Lawrence community the amount of indoor pool space it needs.
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