Perhaps you have heard about it, and now you’ll get to see it too: The proposed $25 million city-owned recreation center in Rock Chalk Park.
The city will host an open house from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on March 26 at City Hall for folks to view plans and renderings for the proposed 181,000-square-foot, eight-gym recreation center.
City officials are getting the open house in right under the wire. About 30 minutes after the open house concludes, commissioners are scheduled give the OK for the city to seek bids on the project.
In other words, if you want to provide any feedback to commissioners that they’ll have time to consider, you may want to take a look at the plans and renderings now. Click here to see what the city has available.
The basic components of the center really hasn’t changed from what has been proposed for many months. Among the major features:
• Eight full-court gyms that also can be used as 16 cross-court gyms or 16 volleyball courts.
• An indoor turf area that will be striped to accommodate one full length soccer field or three cross court fields.
• A gymnastics area.
• A four-lane, indoor walking/running track.
• A dance studio.
• A cardio and weight room area.
• Two party rooms that can be rented for birthday parties and other such events.
But what we haven’t seen much of — especially since the project moved from the west side of Sixth Street and the SLT interchange to the east side of the road — are renderings of the exterior. The city now has a couple of those that they are sharing.
The March 26 open house will be a come-and-go type of event rather than a forum during which the city takes comment about the project. But I’m sure there will be city officials on hand who will be able to answer questions.
In terms of questions, I still get a few from readers about the project. Let me see if I can answer a couple of them here.
• Have all the key votes on the project already taken place? No. On March 5, the City Commission on a 4-1 vote approved a development agreement for the project. That certainly was the most significant vote the commission has taken on the recreation center project yet. It sent the clear message that the city plans to build the recreation center, and the agreement seems to commit the city to pay at least $2 million worth of costs, if for some reason it decides not to build the center.
• What other votes are left to be taken? Well, the city will have to vote to put the project out to bid at the March 26 meeting. That shouldn’t be much of a deal. But there are two more votes that will be a little more interesting because they both will come after a new City Commission is seated on April 9. One vote will be to accept construction bids for the project, and the other will be to issue bonds that will pay for the project. Those votes are where the rubber meets the road.
• Does the current crop of City Commission candidates have any interest in revisiting the issue? Might they choose not to accept the construction bids? Well, legally, the new City Commission could choose to reject the bids or decline to issue debt for the project. There’s nothing in the approved development agreement that forces the next City Commission to do the project.
But whether there are any candidates who have a strong inclination to reverse the decision of a previous City Commission is a bit hard to ascertain. What is clear: Two candidates — Jeremy Farmer and Terry Riordan — have been pretty supportive of the recreation center project throughout their campaign.
Mike Amyx — the lone incumbent in the field — voted against the project. Rob Chestnut, as a member of the city’s Public Incentives Review Committee, voted against recommending the package of economic development incentives for the KU-oriented projects in the adjacent Rock Chalk Park project. But that’s different from saying he doesn’t support the recreation center project and, indeed, he has said he likes the concept, although he has some concerns about the financial arrangements. At a March 6 Voter Education Coalition forum, he made statements indicating he wouldn’t be game for reversing the past commission’s decisions on the project.
The two remaining candidates — Scott Criqui and Leslie Soden — have expressed multiple concerns about the project, but when asked about the project at the March 6 forum, neither said anything about overturning the City Commission’s decision on the issue. But that also wasn’t exactly the question they were asked by the moderator.
At Monday’s North Lawrence candidate forum, Soden, Criqui and Amyx all brought up the recreation issue unsolicited. Soden said she was interested in reducing the size of the building by half, and Amyx made an interesting statement.
“The next City Commission will do more on this project than the current commission,” Amyx told the crowd. “We’re going to be dealing with the financing of it. Three members of this panel right here will become a majority of the next commission. That’s a reason to get out and vote.”
So, tough to ascertain what type of issue the recreation center will be on the campaign trail. But as part of our campaign coverage, we will attempt to get the candidates to more directly answer the question of whether they would consider overturning the city commission’s previous decision on the issue.
But here’s something to remember: Math makes it unlikely that such an overturn will happen. Two existing commissioners will remain on the commission: Bob Schumm and Mike Dever. They are the two strongest supporters of the recreation center project on the commission. That means three candidates who disfavor the current project would have to win in the City Commission election.
After the primary, Amyx, Farmer and Riordan held the top three spots. As we’ve noted, two of those three have expressed consistent support for the proposed project.