A proposal to spend $300,000 to design a new west Lawrence recreation center has become a bit of a jump ball, after a group of citizens have begun lobbying for the project.
City commissioners will take up the issue at their Tuesday evening meeting when they set the budget for 2010.
“Our ability to put facilities on this side of town hasn’t kept up with the population growth,” said Jana Dobbs, a Lawrence banker and member of the city’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board who started an e-mail campaign for the project. “I’m afraid if we don’t continue to look forward and plan for it now, that we’re really going to be behind the curve.”
City Manager David Corliss as part of his recommended 2010 budget included $300,000 to design a new recreation center for city-owned ground at Overland and Wakarusa drives in northwest Lawrence. The plan would put the city in a position to begin building a new center in 2011.
But at a study session earlier this month, a majority of commissioners expressed concern about the timing of the project. But this week, after receiving multiple e-mails and phone calls, some commissioners said they wanted to see what could be done to get some planning for the project done this year.
“I have heard nothing but positive comments about the desire of the community to have additional recreation space,” Commissioner Mike Dever said. “I haven’t heard any negative comments about the need.”
Dever said he was interested in exploring whether there was a private architecture firm in town that could donate some preliminary work. He said there may be some concept plans already available from the PLAY group, a group of citizens that previously has pushed for more recreational facilities in the community. Dever also said he might be willing to support devoting some city staff time to the project, but still thought $300,000 for the proposal would be tough to justify.
“I still think that would be premature,” Dever said.
Mayor Rob Chestnut said he also wanted to discuss the subject more, and particularly wanted more information on when the debt on various other parks and recreation facilities will be paid off.
Commissioner Aron Cromwell said he supports the idea of a west-side recreation center, but said he thought the design work likely should be pushed back until 2011. He said he would support using the $300,000 in Corliss’ recommended budget for maintenance of existing facilities.
“I just don’t think we’re going to be in a position to build it in 2011,” Cromwell said. “I think we’re going to be hard pressed to keep our budgets level in 2011. I think 2012 is the time we could start looking to build a center.”
Cromwell said he was concerned that design work may have to be redone if it sat on the shelf for more than a year.
Commissioner Mike Amyx said he also would be hard-pressed to include $300,000 in the budget, especially since the city is struggling to provide wage increases to city employees.
Commissioner Lance Johnson previously had said he supported keeping the $300,000 in the budget.
Tuesday likely will be the last chance for anybody to get a major item included in the 2010 budget. Commissioners are scheduled to approve the budget for publication. After the budget is published, commissioners cannot increase the total amount of spending in the budget, nor can they increase the mill levy rate.
Corliss’ recommended budget proposes to keep the city’s property tax mill levy unchanged from this year’s level.
Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. on Tuesday at City Hall, Sixth and Massachusetts streets.