City Hall

City Hall

Does Lawrence really have a shortage of gyms?

February 17, 2013


As the debate has brewed about whether Lawrence should build a $25 million regional recreation center, a statistic has frequently been cited by city officials: National standards suggest Lawrence has a shortage of about 18 gyms.

It turns out, though, that that number is a bit like the score of many pickup basketball games — open to interpretation.

The national organization that created the standards the city uses says it no longer backs them as standards and now refers to them as "guidelines." No matter what they're called, the calculation of an 18-gym shortage in Lawrence appears too high. Data from the same trade organization also found that Lawrence already has more public gyms per capita than other cities its size.

City officials, though, said the new information doesn’t change Lawrence's need for more gyms.

“The primary driver in this is, what does the community want?” City Manager David Corliss said. “We have gone through a pretty good process of what the community wants, and we certainly have heard from the public that there is a deficit of indoor recreation space.”

A numbers question

How large is the deficit? An official with the National Recreation and Park Association said the standard the city has used to cite an 18-gym deficit is outdated.

“I would say that by the mid-1980s we pretty much had quit calling them standards,” said Bill Beckner, research manager for the NRPA.

The city has been quoting a statistic developed by the NRPA in the 1970s: A community should have one public indoor gym for every 5,000 residents. How that statistic has been applied in Lawrence has varied. One report commissioned by the city used the standard to estimate that the city currently has a shortage of 10 gyms.

Supporters of the recreation project have been more liberal with the statistic, at times, saying in forums that the city has a shortage of about 18 gyms for its population of 90,000-plus—and would still have a shortage of gyms even if the recreation center gets built.

The proposed recreation center in northwest Lawrence includes plans for eight full-court gyms that can be converted into 16 smaller gyms.

The city currently has three city-owned gyms at recreation centers — in the Community Building, East Lawrence and Holcom recreation centers. But the old standard also allowed public school gyms to at least partially be counted, if a city’s parks and recreation department has access to facilities, Beckner said. Lawrence’s Parks and Recreation program does use public school gyms.

That creates a lot of gray area about how large the deficit would be using the old standard. That’s one reason the NRPA quit using the standards, Beckner said.

“They got to be a point of contention rather than something that was helpful,” Beckner said.

National averages

Today, there are no set standards on the number of gyms or recreation centers a community should have, Beckner said.

But the association does have a national database that shows the average size and number of facilities for communities Lawrence’s size. That database shows that even with its current number of gyms, Lawrence already has more gyms per capita than comparable cities.

At the request of the Journal-World, Beckner ran a report showing averages for cities ranging from 80,000 to 100,000 people. The database found, on average, those communities had one recreation department-owned gym for every 87,000 people.

In other words most communities Lawrence’s size have one city-owned gym, although many cities certainly use public school gyms as well.

The database also shows that the city’s planned “regional recreation center,” at 181,000 square feet, will be much larger than most centers in similar communities. The database found the median size of a recreation center was 25,000 square feet; the largest rec centers averaged 39,000 square feet.

Emphasis on local

But Beckner said communities shouldn’t rely too heavily on any sort of national statistics.

“The idea shouldn’t be to build to any set of standards anyway,” Beckner said. “The idea should be to build according to the needs of your community.”

Lawrence officials have said their youth basketball leagues routinely fill up and a lack of gym space has shortened seasons to six games.

“That is certainly an indicator that you don’t have enough space,” Beckner said.

City officials agree with that assessment. Corliss said the city wasn’t aware that NRPA no longer was endorsing the old standards. The city provided links to Web sites of several other cities that use the standards.

“We have always felt they (the standards) were a gauge, but we never felt they should decide the issue,” Corliss said.


whats_going_on 1 year, 2 months ago

We may have a shortage of gyms, but we also have something that most don't have...Dog Days. :)


toe 1 year, 2 months ago

We have unused borrowing authority and tax revenues. The two most vexing evils of the state worker.


lunacydetector 1 year, 2 months ago

we've got gyms out the wazoo that are under utilized.


abby1130 1 year, 2 months ago

Anyone who has a kid who plays sports knows Lawrence had an extreme shortage of playing space. Many parents have had to have their kids play on teams in Kansas City so their kids are competing on a level playing field. While I sympathize with those who say we should spend our resources elsewhere, there has to be a balance. As the father of a teenage daughter I want her to have the best opportunity to compete on and off the court. There are many studies that show that teenage girls who participate in sports do better in school and tend to stay out of trouble. I think that is important as a parent.


Richard Heckler 1 year, 2 months ago

The birth of this fiasco began about here at least this is about when the public at large got wind of it. This is a high dollar PLAY concept make no bones about it. Does it ever stop?

PLAY Overview

PLAY Committee Members Kelly Barth, Mark Buhler, Dave Corliss, Fred DeVictor, Rick Gammill, Mike Grosdidier, Sue Hack, Paige Hofer, Bonnie Lowe, Pam Madl, Julie Manning, Scott Morgan(USD 497), Wayne Osness, Linda Robinson(USD 497), Bob Sanner, Ernie Shaw, Doug Stremel and Doug Vance.

The Mission Statement of PLAY

Background and Process

The first step in the needs assessment was to collect data from a variety of sources. Three methods were developed to collect data for this study. The design team has completed the following:


Richard Heckler 1 year, 2 months ago

Lawrence is not short on Gym space. Participants need to learn how to make use of what is available. It's all about scheduling. All participants cannot practice at the same time nor play at the same time. Convenience gets too expensive for my tax dollar. If more basketball and soccer games are wanted stretch out the local season..... August 21st to May 1st. We city slickers are not restricted to NCAA rules.

Adding 2-3 gyms to the existing inventory will spell relief. The land near Free State is owned by taxpayers and so is the existing infrastructure now in place.

We've reading some about this new high dollar living project that comes with a 18 hole golf course and tax incentives..... it is located nearby this new Field House project.

The more structures and land the city own's the more the budget becomes expanded which is in and if itself a tax dollar increase any way taxpayers look at it.


oneeye_wilbur 1 year, 2 months ago

How come the Journal World reporters don't give us a link to the Enclosure that Corliss got? Just wonder why it was not included with the link to the letter regarding the PROGRIS or whatever the heck that group is! Sounds like something for hair growth. This rec center is certainly making my hair stand on end.

Isn't it something. All of these professional hot shots at KU Endowment and the local movers and shakers and they keep changing ther strategies? Why didn't Mr. Seuferling at KUEA disclose why he didn't get the donations he claimed that did not come forth?

Was KUEA really expecting donors? Doesn't he know that people are tapped out and the next generation of donors will be supporing their own kids instead?

Need some more facts. By the way, what happened to the Mustard Heir/


Carol Bowen 1 year, 2 months ago

With this new rec center, we will have added the rec center and two sports complexes on our nickel in a short period of time. What fraction of Lawrence residents are served with these projects? What fraction of Lawrence residents are not comparably served. There's more to life than basketball, and not everyone is a child.


Carol Bowen 1 year, 2 months ago

"YMCA has put feelers out in Lawrence but never has seriously considered pursuing it as far as I can tell. Its mentioned then goes quiet."

An outside organization would not be able to compete with Lawrence's Parks and Recreation Department.


lawrenceloser 1 year, 2 months ago

YMCA has put feelers out in Lawrence but never has seriously considered pursuing it as far as I can tell. Its mentioned then goes quiet. There must be something behind the scenes we don't know about i.e. turf war or something. And I don't know what their criteria is for expanding into a new city. Maybe Chad could contact them and get some info on that.


Stain 1 year, 2 months ago

Lawrence does not have a shortage of gyms.


Stain 1 year, 2 months ago

I would like to thank Chad Lawhorn for his excellent reporting on this proposed project.


Rara_Avis 1 year, 2 months ago

I just find it funny that the head of LPR and several other facility managers work out at private clubs.


biggunz 1 year, 2 months ago

How about reporting how many youth and adult sports leagues and teams use the gym space in Lawrence, and how frequently. This article spouting national statistics is useless.


greenworm 1 year, 2 months ago

Have a great idea for 100 basketball courts.. for cheap. have the city pick out 100 of the safest and most logical culdesac's in lawrence and install a 200-300 basketball goal.
there is plenty of fields around town to play soccer and baseball.

Project time 2 wks cost 500 dollars per goal installed = 50,000 dollars

results: no crazy taxes for lawrence residents minimal upkeep did'nt line a few fat cats pockets like this project will, and is probably the driving force of the whole project, how many kids u see outside now a days anyway, usually sitting on the couch and playing video games or on a computer.


Currahee 1 year, 2 months ago

No, the question is, "what do city leaders want?" And the answer is, "MORE GYMS. WE DON'T CARE WHAT YOU THINK."


lgagg18 1 year, 2 months ago

Why is it that everything new going in has to be in WEST Lawrence. This city does NOTHING to improve East Lawrence such as a walking, biking trail headed East maybe along K-10 Hwy. These West Lawrence residents are spoiled by getting everything they want but yet we all have to pay the extra taxes.


onceajhawkalwaysajhawk 1 year, 2 months ago

YMCA option sounds like a good idea. I've used several across the country and some would rival the best fitness facilities in America.


blondejuan 1 year, 2 months ago

If the school district let kids use the gym space we would have plenty of space. We even have schools we aren't using. Remodel them.


grammaddy 1 year, 2 months ago

Is Rock Chalk Park going to be a public gym like Holcolm or the Community building? I thought it was for the purpose of attracting collegiate events. PUT IT TO A PUBLIC VOTE!!


oneeye_wilbur 1 year, 2 months ago

If anyone so desires to speak before the commission do the following:

  1. Ask all five if they have already made up their minds. They should be man enough to answere Yes or No. It is that simple.

  2. If they cannot answer then sit down and then leave. Otherwise you are wasting YOUR time.

The commission does not care how much time they waste in their lives.

Putting this to a vote is a sure way to move forward and spend money for decades to come, while rest of the city crumbles away. After all paying someone to walk around with a piece of chalk downtown marking car tires, hardly demonstrates leadership or sound business policy.


Lawrence Morgan 1 year, 2 months ago

Merrill, you are right on the point with your comments!

However, when I wrote the city commissioners a year ago regarding another matter, I didn't even get one response back.

But I appreciate what you are doing and why.


COjayrocks 1 year, 2 months ago

It's clear Chad is not hiding his feelings regarding the Rec Center anymore...


oneeye_wilbur 1 year, 2 months ago

Get over this nonsense about the kids. The population numbers need to be adjusted t allow for retirement community occupants, nursing homes and children under 4,

Where is the enclosure that was sent to Corliss from the NRPA ??

Would like to read it with one eye!


grandpaD 1 year, 2 months ago

This whole issue is based on KU and Lawrence have to be co joined. The city commission is not listening to the public. Actually this in not uncommon. The commission and developers and money people in this town have set the pace and will not listen to anyone else. Sadly no vote will be approved and this will be built. Just remember what was done here, when in the future, it does not support itself and our taxes go up to pay the shortage.


lizziemarie 1 year, 2 months ago

If you are an athlete or have a child that is one who needs to practice and play in the Winter in Lawrence, Kansas then you are fully aware that there is a HUGE shortage of gym space!


Richard Heckler 1 year, 2 months ago

In a civilized manner let YOUR commissioners know!

Mayor Bob Schumm Home (785) 842-6729 Work (785) 842-7337

Vice Mayor Michael Dever (785) 550-4909

Commissioner Hugh Carter (785) 764-3362

Commissioner Mike Amyx Home (785) 843-3089 Work (785) 842-9425

Commissioner Aron E. Cromwell (785) 749-6020


just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 1 year, 2 months ago

"Supporters of the recreation project have been more liberal with the statistic, at times, saying in forums that the city has a shortage of about 18 gyms for its population of 90,000-plus—and would still have a shortage of gyms even if the recreation center gets built."

Their calculation of the number of gyms per capita also doesn't take into account that a large percentage of that 90,000 population are students, faculty and staff at KU, who have access to a considerable number of university facilities, which means they place little or no reduced demand on city facilities.


Richard Heckler 1 year, 2 months ago

“I have done a lot of feasibility studies on that stuff,” Beckner said. “You have to be real serious to make it work. Every event out there is contested at this point, and by several groups. And there is not a lot of money in it to begin with. You have to have the hotel and restaurant space to make it work.”


rlsd 1 year, 2 months ago

Has anyone ever looked into a YMCA? Topeka has incredible ones and they are AFFORDABLE to the community. I like the idea of improving what we have inexpensively. AND NW Lawrence could sure use a outdoor pool WITH parking!!! A REAL neighborhood gathering place! Merrill is on the right track...this new trafficway plan is all about the wealthy and their sports for kids while they enjoy the Country Club. Not all of us can afford that for ourselves or our kids.


Richard Heckler 1 year, 2 months ago

"“The primary driver in this is, what does the community want?” City Manager David Corliss said. “We have gone through a pretty good process of what the community wants, and we certainly have heard from the public that there is a deficit of indoor recreation space.”

Who is this "public" ? How was the information obtained?

Was the community advised that whomever wanted to spend $31,000,000 million tax dollars and NOT put the issue to a vote?

2-3 new gyms in a $10 million tax dollar neighborhood facility will certainly provide some relief if that relief is in fact necessary.

When it comes to guidelines Lawrence,Kansas government is notorious for blowing off guidelines.


Richard Heckler 1 year, 2 months ago

This whole rec center/PLAY idea came from bankers and the Chamber of Commerce. Bonnie Lowe was the PLAY spokes person and she was quoted as being tired of driving her children to Topeka for whatever. My first thought was that if Topeka has what you need for the family move to Topeka. Or JOCO for that matter. This group has $20 million tax $$$$$ worth of new space for this PLAY project.

The previous USD 497 BOE spent 20 million tax $$$$$$$ on this PLAY project. This was quoted by a USD 497 official as the first phase of the PLAY project. I am not sure that the spending for this is over. This in my mind opens up the USD 497 to the public.

I am okay with sharing this taxpayer owned space absolutely. After all this is PLAY space too.

Lawrence does NOT have a population of 90,000. The real population is in the area of 65,000. That other number includes KU students who have gyms,pools tennis courts,weight training etc etc etc on campus.

"Lawrence officials have said their youth basketball leagues routinely fill up and a lack of gym space has shortened seasons to six games."

Six games is good enough it seems to me. This is not NCAA after all. Want more games ? Extend the season.

There are a lot of basketball courts in Lawrence,Kansas. Open up any so called "vacant" public school that has a basketball court.

Lawrence does not need to move outdoor sports indoors. Let's keep our children outdoors in the real world.


Richard Heckler 1 year, 2 months ago

How can Lawrence taxpayers get the best bang for our 1994 sales tax bucks and improve the quality of life for families throughout the entire community?

Construct a NW neighborhood rec center with 2-3 gyms and a walking/jogging track for public exercise probably for about $10 million. On city owned property. Now we have achieved shoring up the alleged lack of court space.

Connect the Burroughs Creek hike and bike path to the river levy by way off Hobbs Park through the new development in the "eastside warehouse district". A design path has been created so lets get on with it. Maybe cost $200,000.

Then create a design that connects some of the westside trails to the fewer eastside trails. Taxpayer will pay wayyyyy less than 31 million tax $$$$$.

In doing the above Lawrence,Kansas has effectively improved the quality of life for more families throughout the sales tax dollar community. This is definitely within the spirit of the 1994 sales tax that was approved by families throughout the community.


Keith 1 year, 2 months ago

“The primary driver in this is, what does the community want?” City Manager David Corliss said.

Their avoidance of a public vote on this matter shows the lie in this statement.


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