A plan for a $24 million regional recreation center continued to move ahead at a faster pace than a new $42 million proposal to shore up the Lawrence Police Department.
City commissioners at their Tuesday meeting directed staff members to continue pushing ahead with a proposal to build what is now being termed a “sports village” at the northwest corners of Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway. But commissioners did not give such marching orders for a project that would build a new $30 million police headquarters building and add 46 new positions to the city’s police force over the next four years.
Commissioners at their weekly meeting didn’t finalize or outright reject either project. But on the recreation center project, commissioners directed staff members to negotiate a pair of new contracts — including a contract with Lawrence-based GouldEvans architects to work on a more specific design and with a consulting firm that can provide an estimate of the economic impact a regional sports complex could have on the local economy.
On the police proposal, commissioners gave less concrete direction, and some specifically said they weren’t comfortable with the aggressive nature of a four-year plan to fund the project.
“I would certainly like to look at how we could pay this off over a longer time period instead of a four-year sprint,” Mayor Bob Schumm said.
One scenario city staff members put together for discussion purposes called for a nearly 5 mill property tax increase over the next four years, in addition to a temporary 1 percent sales tax that likely would last for a little more than two years to help fund the new police building.
But City Commissioner Aron Cromwell said he worried about sales tax levels in the community and was concerned that if a new sales tax were added, there would be political pressure to extend its once its original term expired.
“I think you would have to view it as likely being a permanent change,” Cromwell said.
Commissioners did direct staff members to investigate whether there would be ways to debt finance a new police facility over a longer term. Some commissioners said they would be willing to consider raising the city’s self-imposed debt limit make room for the $30 million facility. City Commissioner Mike Amyx, though, indicated he would fight any such effort.
“I think raising the debt limit should absolutely be our last option,” Amyx said.
Amyx also was the one commissioner who said the city may need to think about taking money that currently is being discussed to pay for the regional recreation center and shifting it to the police project.
“I think it might be time to look at priorities and really start balancing what is a want and what is a need right now,” Amyx said.
Other commissioners, though, did not show any signs of backing off the recreation center project. Later in the meeting, commissioners unanimously directed staff members to negotiate contracts with GouldEvans and with the consulting firm of Convention Sports and Leisure International to study the potential economic impact of the facility.
Commissioners also set a tentative date of Aug. 7 to receive a more detailed briefing on possible agreements with Duane and Steve Schwada, who have proposed donating 50 acres for the project, and with Thomas Fritzel, who has proposed developing the recreation center on a lease purchase agreement for the city.
As envisioned, the project still would include about a 160,000-square-foot recreation center/youth fieldhouse, along with an outdoor track and field stadium and a soccer field that would be operated by Kansas University but would be located on ground owned by the city