Survey results that put an indoor ice arena at the top of Lawrence residents' wish list for new recreation facilities are, shall we say, surprising.
The survey commissioned by PLAY, Partners for Lawrence Athletics and Youth, will be discussed in more detail at a public meeting Monday evening, but results reported last week suggest about as many questions as answers about how and how much the community should spend on new recreation facilities.
Those surveyed were asked to look at a list of 13 "potential" sports facilities and indicate which ones their household would use if they were developed. Out of a list that included facilities for such sports staples as tennis, soccer, gymnastics, baseball and football, the facility that got the top ranking (33 percent) was an indoor ice arena. The result seemed a bit puzzling even to some of PLAY's organizers. Maybe it was seen as an unmet need in the community, or maybe it was just a matter of people saying, "Gee, we don't have one of THOSE."
The survey also asked what sports venues are most in need of repairs. It's probably no surprise that aging Haskell Stadium topped the list for outdoor facilities, but it's somewhat concerning that the Lawrence Community Building, which underwent a $1.5 million renovation only about a decade ago was at the top of the indoor facilities needing repair. Is that just a mistaken perception, or have the improvements that took place not been properly maintained?
Even at the Community Building, however, half of the respondents ranked the facilities as excellent or good. The five other indoor facilities they ranked (three public school gyms and the Holcom Park and East Lawrence recreation centers) had combined good and excellent rankings that ranged from 67 percent to 89 percent. A third of the respondents also said that current recreation facilities met all of their needs.
That level of satisfaction raises some real questions about how much Lawrence residents will be willing to spend to improve recreation facilities. Just over half (53 percent) were "very supportive" or "somewhat supportive" of "some increase" in sales tax to pay for recreation. Although they favored a sales tax over increased property taxes, such a bare majority - offset by a 35 percent "not supportive" response - isn't exactly a mandate for the recreation portion of a 1 percent sales tax being proposed by Mayor Sue Hack.
What local residents want in the way of recreation facilities and what they are willing to pay for probably are two different things. It would be cool (excuse the pun) to have an indoor ice rink, but should the city pay for that with tax dollars? Another whole issue here is whether some of these facilities (the ice rink is a notable example) would be better handled by private operators.
Local residents don't want the city or its high school athletes to be embarrassed by the quality of sports venues in Lawrence, and we all understand how important parks and recreation facilities are to the community's quality of life.
However, if the city decides to seek additional tax dollars for recreation - on top of the almost $30 million it should receive from the county's 1 percent sales tax in the next decade - it had better be ready to show the community that money will be spent on facilities that are widely utilized and will have a potential to attract regional events that could bring additional tax dollars into the city.