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.