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City may leave downtown Christmas lights up until Valentine's Day; update on Rock Chalk Park construction


Next year, I'm going to have the folks at the Lawrence Parks and Recreation Department write a note for me. I need something to convince my wife that my reluctance to put away the Christmas lights isn't laziness. Well, now the parks and recreation department is proving that I simply was trying to give the public what it wanted.

A good portion of the Christmas lights strung in downtown Lawrence will remain up for at least a few more weeks, parks and recreation leaders have decided. Mark Hecker, assistant director of parks and recreation, said the lights would remain up through at least the end of January and perhaps through Valentine's Day.

"I think people may start getting tired of them in a week or so, but right now people really like them and want us to keep them up," Hecker said.

Several downtown merchants have expressed an interest in the lights remaining on, and visitors seem to like the idea too.

"I think it is a great idea because it is just so dark out right now," said Kevin Loos, chair of the city's parks and recreation advisory board, which was recently briefed on the decision. "I was downtown recently and came out of a restaurant, and it was great to have some light."

As we previously reportedd, the city has a real interest in trying to get more people into the downtown area during the winter season. City officials even are considering the idea of a temporary ice rink in future years. Perhaps the lights will become part of a "Winter Wonderland" theme that city officials are trying to create.

Once again, I think I may be a step ahead of the city on that one. I use the Winter Wonderland moniker frequently. I tell my wife that's what I'm trying to create by not shoveling the snow out of the driveway.

I may need a note for that one too.

In other news and notes from around town:

• The next time you are out by Sixth Street and George Williams Way, take a look to the north. Work on the city's 181,000-square-foot recreation center at Rock Chalk Park is progressing to the point that you can get a sense of how large the facility is going to be.

Parks and Recreation officials recently were updated on the construction project, which has reached the point where cranes are lifting the pre-poured concrete walls. Already, about 60 of the walls have been stood up and put in place. By next week, steel girders will start being placed atop the building to support the roof.

Plans still call for the facility, which will have eight full-court gyms, an indoor turf field, a gymnastics room, a walking track, cardio and weight room and several other features, to be open by late summer.

Members of the city's Parks and Recreation Advisory Board did ask parks and recreation leaders about the recent news regarding concerns with the concrete work on a portion of the project. Engineers raised concerns about one concrete pour on a small portion of a key entrance road to the complex.

But board members were told that overall city officials are very pleased with the work the contractors are doing at the site.

"I have been involved with a lot of construction projects, and there is nothing that is ever perfect," said Ernie Shaw, the city's acting director of parks and recreation. "But from our standpoint, this project has been as good or better than any I have been involved in."

• While we are on the subject, there has been talk going around in some construction circles in the city that a stop-work order has been issued for a major portion of what is commonly referred to as the KU side of the Rock Chalk Park complex. Upon hearing that rumor, I checked in with the city's inspection department, and it is partly accurate and partly not.

Scott McCullough, the city director of planning and development services, confirmed that construction crews have been instructed not to proceed on a small portion of the locker room/clubhouse building that is between the track and field and soccer facilities. But McCullough said the city has not issued a stop work order that shuts down all construction on the project.

Instead, he said the issue involves the type of building material being used to construct a few walls inside the facility. During their routine checks, inspectors on site determined that the stud material for a handful of walls did not meet fire code. McCullough, though, said the problem wasn't found on all the walls in the building. Instead, it just showed up in some minor structures such half walls built around locker room hot tubs, built-in benches and other such areas.

McCullough said the contractor a plan is developing a plan to replace that stud material with material that meets the fire standards. (I'm not sure of all the details on this case, but one example of such an issue is replacing wooden studs with metal studs.)

In talking with McCullough, I really don't think this is a major issue and shouldn't produce any significant delay on the project. But the project is the subject of quite a bit of public interest, and I heard the talk, so I wanted to clear it up.

• Construction work hasn't yet begun on the system of walking and running trails to be built on the Rock Chalk Park property, but architects have started getting more serious about designing potential paths for the trails. A preliminary set of plans has been drawn up that allows for a certified 5K running course on the property. It is also believed that the property can also host a 10K course. Designers have said the walking/running trails will be a nice feature for parents who have some time to kill between the games of youth tournaments at the site.

But with a certified 5K course, I also would expect that the city will try to convince many of the 5K runs that are held downtown to consider using the Rock Chalk Park property. That would alleviate the need for the city to provide police officers to control traffic downtown during the races.

It will be interesting, though, to see if race organizers want to leave the downtown area and all the shops and entertainment that comes with the district.

"This site will have a lot of potential to host events, but a lot of events want to run downtown," Hecker said. "That is a big draw for a lot of the events."


Erin Graham 4 years, 3 months ago

Yay!! Love, love, love the lights- with cold temps and short days, they cut through the darkness and bring a bit of cheer :-). Great to hear they won't be leaving us with 2/3 of winter left!

Scott Burkhart 4 years, 3 months ago

I think atmosphere type lighting in downtown is a good idea all year long.

Wayne Kerr 4 years, 3 months ago

I'm a big fan of the lights, too, and am happy to hear they're leaving them up. I don't think they should be up year round though, maybe they could leave them up until after St Patrick's Day when the weather has warmed up for good.

Clark Coan 4 years, 3 months ago

Went out to see the progress on Rock Chalk Park the other day. It's a huge project with acres of parking lots and the huge rec center building walls are up. Going to be a nice addition for those who want to drive all the way out there. Still think taxpayers should have been allowed to vote on it.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 3 months ago

Let them burn all year round….. keeping downtown festive.

Meanwhile on the matter of construction work violations.

"I have been involved with a lot of construction projects, and there is nothing that is ever perfect," said Ernie Shaw, the city's acting director of parks and recreation. "But from our standpoint, this project has been as good or better than any I have been involved in."

That statement raises a lot of questions about building ethics in this town and may bring up some questions about the inspections and enforcement's. Why do building contractors feel they can violate construction and site plan codes/ordinances?

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