Roughly 100 people took advantage of an opportunity Thursday night to take a closer look at plans for a proposed new recreation center in northwest Lawrence and to ask city officials about the details.
Among their questions at a open house event at Free State High School: What will the city get for a proposed $25 million cost, to be paid to the KU Endowment Association as part of an agreement? How will this benefit me if I live on the other side of town? And why, if the city goes forward with the proposed Endowment agreement, would developer Thomas Fritzel serve as a general contractor without going through a normal bidding process?
Several residents asked variations of that last one to Lawrence City Manager David Corliss, one of several city staff members who manned different question stations.
Corliss explained that the deal offered by the Endowment Association specified that Fritzel would serve in that capacity. And the potential agreement offered the city an opportunity to build a long-needed recreational center while also providing a positive economic impact.
And in addition to all that, city officials believe they’d be getting additional value: officials have estimated total costs of the center at $33.5 million, but the Endowment Association would require a lump payment of only $25 million.
“There is an opportunity with this project that is probably unique,” Corliss told the group around him.
In addition, he said that though under the Endowment agreement the city would not put the project out for bids, the Endowment Association had offered to make bidding processes transparent.
In a letter sent to the city Thursday from KU Endowment President Dale Seuferling, he wrote that the city could have the opportunity to review bids received from potential subcontractors by the Endowment and Fritzel’s group, though after the winning bids have already been selected.
The letter also invited the city to retain a construction monitor to keep an eye on the project as it sees fit.
Lawrence residents Kent and Karen Shrack said as they left the event they hoped the city would work to ensure it received a solid value for its investment.
“I think the word we want is ‘fair,’” Karen Shrack said.
‘Turning kids away’
Resident Jim Joyce came to the open house, he said, to get his first look at floor plans for the proposed center to be located on the northeast corner of Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway.
He asked Parks and Recreation Director Ernie Shaw why the center couldn’t include more general workout space rather than being largely devoted to eight full-sized basketball courts. But Shaw said one of the driving factors for a new recreation center was that the city needed badly to add more gyms for youth sports.
“We’re turning kids away now,” Shaw said.
Shaw said that according to industry recommendations, a city Lawrence’s size should have about 20 more public basketball courts than it does. Tournaments and other events at the proposed center could help offset costs, he said, but he hoped for the primary focus on be on serving the community.
When another resident asked how the center would serve other parts of the city if it’s located on the city’s northwest corner, Corliss noted it should free up the city’s other recreation centers, making gyms more freely available instead of being fully booked with scheduled events much of the time.
“We’re a community that shares different resources,” Corliss said.
Resident Carolyn Crawford, who lives near the proposed center’s location, said she came to the event to get a look at the plans. She had hoped that the portions of the proposed Rock Chalk Park that would be controlled with KU would still feel welcoming and open, and the plans suggested to her that would be the case.
She credited the city for listening to residents’ concerns while it planned the proposed center, and said she fully supported it.
“I think that it’s a good value,” Crawford said.
The City Commission will consider the proposed center further at its meeting Tuesday, when it will have the option to ask staff to prepare more detailed plans and agreements involving the KU-inclusive site. It will also have the option to move forward with plans for a city-only facility to be located at Overland Drive and Wakarusa Drive, plans for which were also made available at Thursday’s public meeting.