Wellness is the word these days.
Talk of building a new “wellness center” with everything from youth baseball fields to a system of outdoor trails and nature areas is becoming a frequent topic of discussion in several Lawrence circles.
At least three proposals to build major new recreation projects have been proposed to potential fundraisers and stakeholders in recent months, the Journal-World has confirmed.
All three projects have one element in common — they all have an interest in housing a wellness center, a new type of recreation complex focusing on improving health. Creating a wellness center has been touted as a goal by Kansas University basketball coach Bill Self’s nonprofit foundation.
Self’s Assists Foundation has had discussions with groups that have an interest in building recreation projects on school district-owned ground southeast of Lawrence, on city-leased ground below Clinton Lake Dam, and on city-owned property at Wakarusa and Overland drives, said Laura Dixon, a spokeswoman for the foundation’s board of directors.
But Dixon said the foundation has not yet endorsed a project and is still waiting for more specific plans to be developed. Interest levels, though, are growing, she said.
“At our last board meeting, the board seemed very excited that there were several possibilities out there that just weren’t pie-in-the-sky dreams but could be executed in the near future,” Dixon said.
Here’s a look at the three proposals.
Lawrence public school district’s recent $1.7 million purchase of 76 acres of farm and pasture land near the proposed intersection of the South Lawrence Trafficway and Noria Road brought this proposal to light.
But John McGrew, an owner of Lawrence-based McGrew Real Estate, has been discussing the idea of an outdoor learning center with stakeholders for several months.
McGrew stressed that all plans are open to change, but he envisions a large fishing pond, nature trails, and community vegetable and flower gardens being developed on the site. The property also would have room for a wellness center, a “miracle softball field” that would be a specially designed field for people with disabilities, and perhaps an amphitheater or other sports fields or community gathering places.
“This could be a terrific community building opportunity,” McGrew said.
The recently purchased school district property is adjacent to 40 acres of property the city has long owned as future parkland. McGrew is proposing that the city, the school district and the county sign an interlocal agreement that would commit the governments to study the two properties and come up with a joint plan for the best way to use the land.
“This needs to be whatever the community wants it to be, but I personally hope it will be used for promoting wellness and the prevention of disease,” McGrew said.
McGrew is part of the local Nature Education for Kids Task Force, which is concerned that young people are suffering negative health consequences by not getting outside enough.
McGrew said the new school district property could be a place where Lawrence schools could develop an outdoor, nature-based curriculum that would include field trips to the site. McGrew and former school district Superintendent Randy Weseman discussed the idea before Weseman’s retirement this summer. McGrew helped advise the school district on the purchase of the property.
School district leaders said the property was not purchased specifically for the outdoor center idea. Frank Harwood, chief operations officer for the district, said the site also may work for future school construction.
“But we are willing to talk with groups that have a community interest in mind,” Harwood said.
McGrew — who believes the project would have to be paid for through a combination of public and private funds — thinks now may be the time for the project to gain momentum as concern about rates of childhood obesity, attention deficit disorder and diabetes grow.
“I just hope we can think big,” McGrew said. “I think it could be a prototype for the state of Kansas or even the nation.”
Baseball and softball fields are driving a proposal that centers on city-leased land below Clinton Lake Dam.
Bret Morris — a former Kansas University baseball player and longtime youth baseball and softball coach — has put together a group called Fields for Lawrence Youth.
Over the last two years, members of the group have been quietly advocating for a project that would build six new competition-grade baseball fields and six youth fastpitch softball fields on about 75 acres east of the city’s off-leash dog park. The project also could include an indoor facility that would feature an artificial turf surface, and a mezzanine level that could be used as an indoor running and walking track.
Morris said the project also could include the idea of a wellness center on the property or on additional city-leased property adjacent to the site.
“My vision of this place really is a family park with baseball and softball fields incorporated into it,” said Morris, who envisions shuffleboard, miniature golf and picnic areas. “With the setting of Clinton Lake, there is the potential for so much more.”
Morris has put together plans that estimate the costs at $10 million with the indoor center, or $7.5 million without the facility. He’s suggested the city would provide about one-third of the funding and private sources would provide the balance.
Morris said he believes the complex would be an economic development driver for the city. He anticipates the complex could host about 30 tournaments a year of different sizes, with most attracting teams from outside the area that would spend money on food and lodging.
“I think we could drive a train of people into town with this,” Morris said.
The idea for the complex originally started more than two years ago, with Morris envisioning that the project would be located on private property and operated privately. But he said city staff members approached him and suggested he consider locating the project on the Clinton Lake site.
Morris said he’s been waiting for the city’s budget to improve before seeking city funding for the project. The city is expected to have some borrowing authority available after 2010 when it pays off the bonds for the city’s Indoor Aquatic Center.
Wakarusa and Overland
But the project is not the only one on the minds of city staffers. City Manager David Corliss in July proposed as part of the 2010 budget that the city begin designing a new recreation center for city-owned land at Wakarusa and Overland drives.
City commissioners stopped short of giving staff members authority to start designing a new recreation center. Instead, they directed staff to do a more thorough study of what the city’s most pressing recreation needs are, and also to look for public-private partnerships.
Corliss confirmed that city leaders have approached Self’s foundation about creating a partnership to build a wellness/recreation center at the site but said no deal has been struck.
“We’re exploring that and other public-private partnerships,” Corliss said. “But clearly, his foundation is a wonderful vehicle for doing a lot of great things.”
No specific plans have been developed by the city for a northwest complex, although Corliss said a KU architecture class has created concept drawings showing how the site could work for a recreation, wellness and indoor gym facility.
Corliss said he proposed in his 2010 budget that the city focus on the northwest location — as opposed to the Clinton Lake project — because he believes the northwest area of town is one of the few in the city that doesn’t have easy access to a city recreation center.
He also said there may be some economic development benefits by having a project located more squarely in the city limits. The northwest site is surrounded by some of the larger parcels of undeveloped commercially zoned ground in the city. Corliss said if the center ended up playing host to volleyball or basketball tournaments, it may be easier for participants to spend money in the city from that site as opposed to the Clinton Lake site.
“But all that is a secondary benefit,” Corliss said. “The main benefit is to do what we can to create a healthy community.”
City commissioners in mid-December are expected to view results of a Parks and Recreation survey that measures what the community believes are the most pressing parks and recreation needs.