New city commissioners will get a chance to shape the future of parks and recreation in Lawrence.
Editor's Note: This five-part series outlines issues of importance to Lawrence along with responses and ideas of city commission candidates. The city primary, which will pare the field of candidates from nine to six, is March 2. Today's final installment focuses on recreation issues.
By Mark Fagan
Each time residents, employees and visitors buy clothes, furniture and cars in Lawrence, they help drive the expansion of the city's parks and recreation system.
Since voters approved a special 1-cent countywide sales tax in 1994, city officials have spent $2.88 million on a new downtown pool, $2 million for a softball complex near Clinton Lake, $2 million to expand the East Lawrence Recreation Center and several hundreds of thousands of dollars on acquiring open space, upgrading existing parks, replacing unsafe playground equipment and extending trails and paths for pedestrians and cyclists.
And it's not over yet.
Three new Lawrence city commissioners elected April 6 soon will become players in the city's ongoing program to finance new park areas and recreational programs.
"It'll be great to have new ideas and new contributions," said Mayor Marty Kennedy, who has two years remaining on his commission term, along with Commissioner Erv Hodges. "Change always brings into focus fresh ideas."
Some already are in motion.
The city is working on plans for a new $9.5 million indoor aquatic center at Free State High School. A new public school in west Lawrence could include an adjacent neighborhood recreation center in the future, preliminary architectural drawings show.
From a skate park that opened in recent months to a new Prairie Park Nature Center set to open in the coming months, the city's parks and recreation officials have been busy coming up with features and programs to meet growing recreational needs.
How future projects will take shape, however, remains well within the authority of commissioners, who must approve all expenditures to make the projects a reality. The city already has tentative plans to update in the coming months a master plan for parks and recreation. The plan was the road map that led to passage of the sales tax nearly five years ago.
As the new parks come on line, officials also are straining to operate and maintain them all. Officials already have dipped into the city's continuing stream of sales-tax revenues to operate and maintain new recreation facilities, including the nature center and Eagle Bend Golf Course.
The new aquatic center is expected to lose as much as $300,000 a year in operational costs, judging by a study conducted by the project's hired designers, Michael Treanor Architects. Sales-tax revenues are expected to pick up the slack.
Making the call on parks and recreation issues takes plenty of focus, Kennedy said. He still remembers being criticized by neighbors when commissioners discussed the possibility of buying Corpus Christi Catholic Church for conversion into a recreation center.
While that plan didn't fly, commissioners will continue looking for answers.
"It's a tough one to try to please at least someone," Kennedy said.
-- Mark Fagan's phone message number is 832-7188. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.