Lawrence city leaders are ready to hear how big the public is thinking these days when it comes to a new recreation center for the community.
The city’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board will host a public forum from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday in the commons area of Free State High School, 4700 Overland Drive, to discuss the possibility of a regional recreation complex that would include a fieldhouse, outdoor track and other amenities in northwest Lawrence.
“We’ve heard for many years now that we have a significant deficit in indoor gym space,” City Manager David Corliss said. “We want to hear from the public what we can do to address that shortage. We know we can do something small, but the question really is whether the community wants us to pursue this idea of working with partners to do something much larger than we could do on our own.”
At Wednesday’s meeting, city leaders are expected to provide some details about a proposal to build a multi-gym fieldhouse and recreation complex on the 50 acres of donated land at the northwest corner Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway.
The city’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board met on Tuesday to prepare the meeting, and, based on its discussion, here are some points to watch for:
• Cost: $15 million has been a number thrown around a lot at City Hall in regard to how much the city may put toward the project. That’s how much the city was contemplating spending on a previously proposed smaller center on city-owned land near Walmart at Sixth and Wakarusa. But materials presented to the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board highlighted that the $15 million price tag does not include significant infrastructure and site improvements that will have to be made to the donated property. The city likely will have to cover all those costs, which haven’t yet been finalized. But Corliss said the costs will be significant, and likely would amount to several million dollars.
• Size: Concept plans are still calling for at least eight full court gyms that could be used for basketball and volleyball. Concept plans also include: an indoor walking track; an indoor artificial turf field for soccer and football; a community weight and cardio room; and a gymnastics area. The facility is being designed to serve both community needs and to attract regional tournaments that could provide a boost to the city’s economy.
• Kansas University: City officials are now characterizing KU as “a very likely partner” in the project. The concept plans show an outdoor track stadium and a soccer field that primarily would be for university uses, perhaps including hosting the Kansas Relays. Officials also confirmed that KU Coach Bill Self’s Assists Foundation continues to be interested in supporting the project.
• Wellness center: The plans also include a wellness center, that the city says could possibly be run by Lawrence Memorial Hospital. The city confirmed LMH has been in discussions with project leaders about the wellness component. Ernie Shaw, interim director of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, said possible elements of a wellness center could include nutrition classes, physical rehabilitation services, body fat screenings, and other more specialized services and classes than what Parks and Recreation could offer.
• Partners: Corliss confirmed that Lawrence businessmen Steve and Duane Schwada are still key partners in the project. They control the ownership group that would donate the 50 acres to the city. Thomas Fritzel of Gene Fritzel Construction also is listed as a partner. Fritzel has been a key organizer of concept and has been the primary individual to reach out to Kansas University. Corliss has referred to Fritzel as a possible builder for the project.
• Control: At one point, there was discussion of Fritzel and his company running the day-to-day operations of the center. But Corliss confirmed that the focus has now shifted to having the city’s Parks and Recreation Department handle all maintenance, operations and scheduling of the property. The issue of who would ultimately control the center has been an important one to parks and recreation advocates in the community.
“I know I wouldn’t personally be willing to stick my neck out there and say we should spend ‘X’ amount of public tax dollars, if we could end up in a situation where we are in the second position of having access to gym space,” said Jana Dawson, a member of the city’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, and one the key proponents of more neighborhood gym space in the community.
Members of the public at Wednesday’s forum will have a chance to ask questions and make comments. Speakers likely will be limited to three minutes to make comments, Dawson said.