Archive for Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Opinion: Advisory board member backs rec center

January 8, 2013


The City of Lawrence Parks and Recreation Advisory Board has spent an extensive amount of time the past six years studying our community’s recreation facilities, conducting public forums and gathering input via surveys. We’ve evaluated existing resources and partnerships.  The fact that we are woefully short on gym space is just that, a fact.

Take a drive to our centers some weekend and you’ll see an incredible flurry of activity. A youth basketball season in Lawrence now consists of only six games. That’s the best we can do because of limited gym space. Our senior citizens go to Walmart to have an indoor location to walk laps. The list goes on and on.

 This facility addresses, first and foremost, our community recreation needs. The new facility includes gymnasium space, gymnastics, indoor turf, proposed wellness center, walking track and cardio equipment. The walking track, as well as other programming such as indoor tennis and pickleball, will benefit our senior citizen population and fits nicely with the city’s retirement community initiative. These amenities are available to our citizens via open access without regard to economic status.  

With the knowledge that we are absolutely short on indoor recreation space, the question becomes location and timing. Is now really the best time to initiate a project of this magnitude? Why not build a smaller, neighborhood recreation center on property the city already owns at Overland Drive?

Challenging times present opportunities for those who have planned for such times. The City of Lawrence is in that position now. We have the funds to build this project without raising taxes, and we have a unique set of circumstances that will afford us an incredible opportunity.

First, we will have a partnership between the city and Kansas University Endowment Association, allowing both the university and the city to build facilities that, independently, would be difficult to accomplish. Secondly, the city has a “not to exceed” price of $25 million for this project by using the same general contractor as KUEA. If the city had to build the project on its own, the cost would be about $33 million. Even if we considered the Overland Drive location, we would be spending the same amount for a much smaller center because we wouldn’t take advantage of economies of scale, and the city likely still would help with infrastructure costs at the Rock Chalk Park location. KU is our largest employer. Do you really think the city isn’t going to assist them (and rightfully so) with this project? Third, construction costs are low right now. As the economy improves, the costs will go up. And, finally, interest rates are amazingly low. The bonds issued to pay for this project will be paid back with very favorable terms. Lawrence will attract a sizeable number of amateur tournaments that will bring substantial economic development to us through captured sales tax dollars in the community. 

Good leaders evaluate all of the existing conditions and evaluate risk versus reward.  Given the circumstances listed above, the potential rewards of this project, particularly solving the decades-long gym shortage for our community, far outweigh the perceived risk of taking on debt that will be paid using existing sales tax revenues.

Dolph Simons, Jr. wrote the following in the Lawrence Journal-World on Aug. 22, 2009: “Lawrence’s goal should be to be ‘America’s finest university city.’ This would mean good and/or excellent education facilities, health care, housing, job opportunities, recreation facilities, retail shopping, clean government and law enforcement, a progressive outlook and a ‘great place to live and work.’ Lawrence and KU leaders, as well as all residents, need to get to work. It’s easy to see the price the city and the university have paid for a feeling of satisfaction, complacency, smugness or elitism. We need action, not excuses, and leaders with vision and courage, not those trying to avoid offending anyone or stepping on any toes.”

I couldn’t agree more. Now is our opportunity to start working toward that goal.  Now is the time for our leaders to show courage in making the right decision for our community and that decision is proceeding with this project.

— Jana Dawson is a member of the Lawrence Parks and Recreation Department Advisory Board.


just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 5 months ago

If it's such a slam-dunk great idea, put it to a vote. It should pass easily, right?

streetman 5 years, 5 months ago

I'm skeptical on the "short-on-space-for-community-basketball" argument. All the gyms in all of the the Lawrence schools are booked solid every evening, all weekend and unavailable for youth basketball? Sure seemed to work fine where I grew up.

By the way -- have not seen a list of all of these outside tournaments that would show up here in the "build-it-and-they-will-come" scenario, that would simply abandon the NE Kansas complexes that already exist (and don't pay for themselves) that host the tournaments. Have they been talked to to assess the likelihood of their moving the event to Lawrence?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 5 months ago

Yea, the proponents of this are long on assertions, but short on backing them up.

jdawson 5 years, 5 months ago

I was skeptical, too, when I joined the advisory board. That's why we scheduled time and met with the principals of all of the elementary be sure we're using our existing resources before building new ones. The principals were all very cooperative and willing to work with LPRD. However, with Boys & Girls Club, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, school music programs and PTO events, the schools are being used to their potential. It was only after we made sure we didn't have any untapped resources that we began planning for an additional building. As for the tournaments, I used to coach a youth travel basketball team and the kids always wanted to come to Lawrence because of the basketball tradition here. I have a study from Texas A&M - College Station (similar size to Lawrence) - where they did an actual direct spending survey of basketball tourney participants (not a projection, but rather an actual survey of how much they spent). Results showed more than $400,000 in direct spending in one weekend. This is very typical for tournaments like this. Please remember, though, that the tournaments are secondary. The primary purpose of this facility is for local recreation programming and LPRD...not the developer and not KU... will be scheduling the rec center component.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 5 months ago

As I have said, if this is such a slam-dunk great deal, there should be no trepidation about putting it to a vote, right?

Tim Herndon 5 years, 5 months ago

Thanks -- great input, jdawson. Your close involvement in allied areas of community work, esp. with P&R, lends a lot of credibility to the points being made by project proponents. Continued good luck with this initiative, which I believe will benefit everyone in Lawrence in some way.

Mike_DuPree 5 years, 5 months ago

Thank you, is good to know our city employees do their homework. Now the citizens need to be given a chance to vote on the project, with the project being clearly defined on the ballot, not just in the newspaper. This project is too large, involving too many public dollars and resources, to let a handful of people decide for the public whether or not to commit those public dollars and resources. A public vote will put the project to the kind of public scrutiny a tax paying public deserves.

jdawson 5 years, 5 months ago

If we were asking for new taxes, I would be all for a public vote, as was the case for both public transit and the library project. However, in this case, we are using existing tax dollars that are generated from a sales tax that was passed by voters for specific purposes, one of which being recreation projects. For the recreation project, I believe we rely on our representative form of government in which our elected officials weigh the costs and benefits of the project and allocate dollars accordingly. That's why we elect manage our budgets within specified guidelines. Those guidelines are being followed in this case. I might also mention that our City finances are quite good in comparison to other municipalities and that we have a favorable bond rating, both indicators of sound financial management.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 5 months ago

"we are using existing tax dollars "

This is a flat-out lie. None of these taxes have been generated or collected. You're trying to sleaze this in on a sales tax that should have been sunset from the start. That it wasn't was a mistake from 20 years ago, but 20 years was plenty of time to fix that mistake. Perpetuating it for another 20 years, without a vote, is just downright-- well, admin won't let me type it here.

jdawson 5 years, 5 months ago

For those of you who would like to read the documentation to back up these assertions, please go to and pull up the agenda from Nov. 13, 2012. The chronological summary contains many valuable, informative links.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 5 months ago

If the links are so valuable, they'd make passing a bond issue voted on by actual voters in February or April pretty simple, right? What are you afraid of if this is such a great deal?

Lawrence Morgan 5 years, 5 months ago

The writer, Jana Dawson, is part of the Advisory Board, that's why they are afraid, and to be frank, this letter is downright cowardly.

If this proposal is any good at all, put it to the vote! Let's not do it behind closed doors. Today is much different than it was 10 or 20 years ago!

Richard Heckler 5 years, 5 months ago

This PLAY project is all about economic growth and tourism. Hoping to draw tournaments away from Topeka and KCMO/JOCO metro.

Take a look at what is on this table aka PLAY.

Overview In 2006, a committee of interested community volunteers came together to study the needs and potential for state of the art competitive and recreational sports venues within the Lawrence, Kansas community. The committee requested the support of local organizations to financially support a feasibility study and needs assessment to evaluate the need and potential support for these facilities. The City of Lawrence, Lawrence Public School District, Douglas County, Kansas, and the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce partnered to financially support this study.

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, Wayne Osness, Linda Robinson, Bob Sanner, Ernie Shaw, Doug Stremel and Doug Vance.

The Mission Statement of PLAY Partners for Lawrence Athletics and Public Youth (PLAY) is a partnership of The City of Lawrence, Douglas County Kansas, Lawrence School District 497 and The Lawrence Chamber of Commerce to conduct a needs assessment and feasibility study to evaluate the need and potential support for state of the art competitive and recreational sports venues for our community.

Background and Process In August of 2006, the PLAY Committee selected Treanor Architects, P.A. of Lawrence, Kansas as the prime consultant to complete this assessment and needs study. Treanor Architects brought a team of consultants to assist in this study: Green Play LLC, Landplan Engineering, Richard Caplan and Associates, and Leisure Vision/ETC. This team has worked together over the last eight months to conduct a needs assessment, a random public survey, worked with the PLAY committee to identify new and improved venues, and developed this final study and report.

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:

This PLAY sports complex issue is large in scope which began probably around 2007. USD 497 was the first phase with their 20 million $$$$ contribution.

In essence the taxpayers will be at around $50 million invested if we include new infrastructure.

An estimated $300,000 a year for operations/maintenance for this new field house. I don't know what the new expense to the school district might be. It has been difficult getting that information perhaps because no one knows.

Meet the PLAYproject:

Richard Heckler 5 years, 5 months ago

Put this matter to a vote. This vote can be attached to the ballot for our normally scheduled April elections.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 5 months ago

What percentage of eligible voters took the time to come out and vote during the last city commission election? If the percentage was small, and we all know that it was, then why would anyone claim that the will of the people is being represented. The fact is, the will of the people is best represented by people sitting at home, watching TV and playing video games. It's an unfortunate truth, but the truth nonetheless.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 5 months ago

Jana Dawson - Senior Vice President, Human Resources & Marketing, Chief Marketing Officer at CornerBank

With all due respect why is it the banks,builders and real estate agencies will not finance,build and manage instead of laying on the backs of the taxpayers to promote their real estate ventures?

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