Four new parks and major improvements to an existing one are on the way for Lawrence residents, despite growing concerns about city streets, sewers and other infrastructure.
City commissioners on a 4-1 vote gave staff members approval Tuesday night to move ahead on $1.94 million worth of improvements, including new parks west of Wakarusa Drive, near 31st Street and Kasold Drive, and near the Hallmark Cards plant in northern Lawrence.
"Maintaining a great park system is crucial to maintaining our quality of life," Mayor Boog Highberger said.
No one argued with that, but commissioners did disagree about whether the city can afford a new investment in parks right now. City Commissioner Mike Amyx - who voted against the proposal - said the city also had to consider major improvements to city streets, sewers and North Lawrence storm sewers after receiving staff reports that all are in need of repair. The city also is contemplating a new downtown library, although no money has been budgeted for that project.
"We really need to be having some discussion about what our priorities really are going to be," Amyx said. "Heaven forbid we talk about our sewers. I really want to make sure the things we are looking at are our highest priorities."
Commissioners did trim $500,000 from the list of projects submitted by the Parks and Recreation Department. The items cut primarily were maintenance projects or smaller improvements to existing facilities. They ranged from new lights at baseball diamonds to a new elevator at the Community Building.
Projects that did receive approval were:
¢ Peterson Park: a neighborhood park near Peterson Road and North Iowa Street, just west of the Hallmark Cards plant.
¢ Green Meadows Park: a neighborhood park north and west of the area near Kasold Drive and 31st Street.
¢ Greenbelt Park: a neighborhood park near Langston Hughes School in west Lawrence.
¢ Improvements to the playground, shelter house and rest rooms at Clinton Park, an existing park near Fifth and Alabama streets.
¢ $260,000 for acquisition of future parkland.
Fred DeVictor, director of the city's Parks and Recreation Department, said he hoped construction work would begin on at least two of the parks this year. The entire list of projects could take up to three years to complete. He said he didn't know which projects would move forward first, but said Greenbelt Park might receive priority consideration after several members of the public and the City Commission spoke in favor of the project Tuesday night.
The city is proposing to fund the projects by issuing new 10-year debt that will be paid with revenues from the countywide 1-cent sales tax. The city has sales tax money available because it recently paid off the debt for the Lawrence Aquatic Center.