For some people, one of the best ways to get their minds off everyday troubles or pressures is to work on a jigsaw puzzle.
Jigsaw puzzles consist of hundreds, sometimes more than 1,000 pieces, of different-colored and different-shaped pieces of thin cardboard, which, when fitted together, form an attractive picture, like a landscape, flowers or other multi-colored scene. So far, there hasn’t been a jigsaw depicting a large multipurpose recreation center.
For the past several months, Lawrence residents have had a different kind of jigsaw puzzle laid before them with many different interests, goals, price tags and players. When all these interests are studied and put together, they hopefully would present an attractive picture that would be good for Lawrence and its residents.
This unique jigsaw puzzle should be titled “Lawrence Recreation Center,” with Lawrence residents and Lawrence city commissioners given the responsibility of fitting the various pieces together to end up with an attractive, workable, efficient and affordable “picture” that will meet the needs of the city.
The “pieces” of this puzzle do not number in the hundreds or thousands, but how this puzzle is put together will affect hundreds of thousands of individuals.
Various parts of the puzzle could be colored or shaped to portray their degree of interest or significance in the overall recreation center. The players are:
• Duane Schwada, a successful Lawrence developer known as a tough negotiator but someone who always follows through on his commitments. Schwada initially offered the city, free of charge, 50 acres at the northwest corner of Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway. This was to serve as a site for the city to build a recreation center for local needs and for basketball and volleyball tournaments.
• Thomas Fritzel, a Lawrence developer, who joined the Schwada effort but was not part of the original Schwada plan. He inserted himself into the Schwada site by telling city officials if they wanted any Kansas University involvement in the project, he was the only one who could deliver KU.
• KU basketball coach Bill Self and his Assists Foundation. Self has expressed interest in helping fund and develop a large basketball complex that could accommodate regional and national high school and AAU tournaments, as well as provide a number of basketball courts for use by local residents.
• Thomas Fritzel in another role. This week, Fritzel announced he would be developing a site directly east and across the highway from Schwada’s site. This would be the location for KU track, soccer and softball facilities.
• KU Athletic Director Sheahon Zenger. Zenger and Kansas Athletics have an agreement with Fritzel to build and finance the university facilities over a 30-year period.
• The KU Endowment Association. Although no KUEA officials have made a formal announcement, Zenger has said an unnamed individual made a generous financial gift to the KUEA. The KUEA is to buy the land to be used as the location for the new KU facilities with Fritzel as the developer. It would be interesting to learn whether naming rights are included in the gift as they are in any other gifts to the KUEA.
• The residents of Lawrence. This is the largest and most important group of players in the entire recreation center story. What do Lawrence residents want? Do they want a city recreation center designed for Lawrence and area residents, particularly the young people of Lawrence? Or do they want a much larger facility and partnership with KU Athletics?
Is the location of this facility of concern to Lawrence residents? How about the cost to Lawrence taxpayers to build the center? Is it right for Kansas to dictate where and what kind of recreation facility Lawrence should have? Is it imperative that the proposed basketball complex, which would be partially funded by the Self foundation, be located near the KU athletic facilities, or could it be placed at another site? Will KU officials or Fritzel allow open bidding for their new facilities or has an agreement been made that Fritzel will be the only builder?
• Lawrence city commissioners. These five individuals will make the final decision, hopefully with one goal in mind: What is in the best interests of the ENTIRE Lawrence community and at what cost?
These are the major players, along with some of the questions surrounding the project that need to be answered. Other questions include whether it is better to have six, eight or more basketball courts in a single location or to have clusters of courts at various sites throughout the community.
Lawrence is putting together a fairly large and expensive list of projects to meet current and future needs: a new city library, $40 million for Lawrence police staff and facilities improvements, a new waste-water plant, probably new or expanded water treatment facilities and perhaps other major needs.
The KUEA is a totally independent entity, and KUEA officials have the right to allocate funds wherever they think they are in the best interest of building a better university. There are bound to be some who will question whether, in these economic times, it is better to spend money to buy land for a sports development or to spend the same money on academic and research salaries and facilities.
But it should be remembered individuals can make, and have made, generous contributions to the KUEA for specific purposes such as scholarship halls, museum acquisitions, student scholarships, faculty travel, books for the libraries — or athletic buildings or to buy land they think would be valuable for the university.
The Lawrence recreation center puzzle may now have another name to identify the development with the Zenger/Kansas Athletics involvement, but whatever the name, it will be interesting, probably fascinating, or perhaps troubling, to see how the puzzle is put together.