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Rock Chalk Park recreation center books about $70k worth of event rentals
On a cold day like today, thoughts of a little beach volleyball help keep me warm. Thoughts of volleyball — sans sand — also apparently are warming the hearts of leaders of the city's new Rock Chalk Park Recreation Center.
City officials have begun accepting reservations for the 181,000-square-foot center under construction north and east of Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway. And volleyball teams are the first ones to jump on the bandwagon.
City Manager David Corliss told me the city already has booked almost $70,000 in rental fees for the facility, and that's just for events scheduled from January 2015 through April 2015. Heart of America Volleyball and Blue Valley Athletic Association have booked a total of 10 weekends. Lawrence-based Kaw Valley Soccer also has booked the center for a weekend.
Lots of people have associated the recreation center and its eight full-court gyms with basketball. But volleyball always has been a big part of the plan. The eight gyms are designed to also accommodate 16 volleyball courts. During the planning process, I had several city officials tell me that there probably was a bigger shortage of volleyball courts in the region than basketball. Heart of America Volleyball is based in Kansas City, and I believe the Blue Valley Athletic Association is based in Johnson County.
City officials still believe basketball will be a big player at the center as well, but it is slower to materialize because of some logistical issues. Parks and Recreation officials said they have had multiple contacts from basketball tournament organizers, but those groups are inquiring about the center for the summer and fall of 2014. City officials hope to have the center open by July of 2014, but they can't guarantee it. Officials are confident the center will be open by January 2015.
A quick reminder here: When the city rents the center for a weekend, that doesn't mean the facility will be closed to the public. The center has been designed so that two full-court gyms, a fitness area, walking track and other amenities always will be open to the public, even when a large tournament is at the center.
It is fair to say that the early success of the center has come before the city really has started a full-fledged marketing campaign. Corliss confirmed the city has a contract with Lawrence-based Miller Meiers Communication to work on marketing and branding strategies for the center.
The city also is in the process of hiring a center manager. My understanding is about 100 applicants from all over the country applied for the position, and the city is set to make announcement on a hiring soon. The position not only will oversee the staff of the center, but also will be involved in attracting tournaments and events.
One issue that hasn't been resolved is what the official name of the center will be. Right now it shows up on the city's website and such as the Lawrence Recreation Center at Rock Chalk Park. But city commissioners haven't voted to name it that or anything else. I've heard some people say that is a bit of a mouthful, but others at City Hall say it is a pretty functional name. I'm not getting any indications that the city is going to try to sell naming rights for the entire center, although I think they will offer naming right for courts and other areas inside the center.
In other news and notes from around town:
• City commissioners have committed to spend $22.5 million to build the recreation center and infrastructure that will be shared with the Kansas University-oriented facilities that will be next door. But that $22.5 million doesn't get the city everything it needs to operate a recreation facility, and now the city is starting to spend money to outfit the center. At their Tuesday evening meeting, commissioners are expected to approve a bid for about $45,000 in bleachers and benches for gymnasiums. The city also has bids out for about $60,000 to $70,000 worth of security cameras and devices. Other items that aren't included in the $22.5 million master development agreement include fitness center equipment, office furniture, and balls, nets and other such equipment.
• Lawrence loves its recreation, but one recreational activity that apparently isn't too popular is snow shoveling. City officials are reporting that it continues to have trouble attracting volunteers for a program that pairs up able-bodied snow shovelers with senior citizens who need assistance. The city reports that it had 87 seniors request service through the Safe Winter Walkways Program, but only 26 people volunteered to shovel. Some volunteers agreed to shovel for more than one household, so the city is able to provide a shoveler for 35 of the 87 people who have requested assistance. That leaves about 60 percent of the people seeking assistance out of luck. Technically, the deadline to sign up to help residents has passed. But if you are starting to feel guilty, you may be able to call Douglas County Senior Services, which is a partner in the project, to inquire about volunteering. Douglas County Senior Services can be reached at 842-0543.