By ROBERT PIERCE
• Leader & Times
The weather outside may be frightful, but while a walk in the park is the last thing on some minds, the City of Liberal is continuing to look at the needs of its recreation department.
Since 1994, the Focus on the Future committee has been suggesting the city build a new recreation center in Liberal, and this January and February, Parks and Rec will host a series of town hall meetings to help determine the feasibility of constructing and operating an indoor multipurpose rec center.
Market research, including a survey of attendees, will take place at each meeting in the upcoming weeks to complete the analysis. City Manager Mark Hall said the meetings will primarily look at where a center will be built and what it contains.
“It gives an idea of what we want to do,” Parks and Rec Director Gary Scott said. “The survey kind of feels it out a little bit, so we’ll know what they’re looking at.”
Scott said while the question of getting a new rec center has been considered for many years, it does need to be reexamined from time to time.
“The things that we did years ago, we’ve got to look at that again because things have changed,” he said. “There’s different demands than there were. They’ve got different demographics than we did 10, 15, 20, 25 years ago.”
Hall said a rec center of any kind would be appreciated by Liberal residents.
“A big determining factor for the citizens will be how much it costs and how much it costs to operate,” he said. “That’s what these meetings are for.”
Following the series of meetings, which are scheduled to end Feb. 28, there will be a vote to consider the question of bringing a new rec center to Liberal.
“It’ll be conducted, and we’ll hear whether they want a rec center or not,” Hall said. “We made a pledge by the commission that if the 1 cent sales tax passed, staff would come up with the concept and a cost and an operational cost for the new rec center, and that would be put to a vote May 10.”
Hall said the question on the ballot will likely include the estimated annual operation cost of a facility.
“The goal is always from our point of view to break even,” he said. “We’re not in business to generate revenue, but you also don’t want it costing the taxpayers money to operate.”
Should the proposal pass, Hall said the city has set aside $1 million for a center.
“If approved, breaking ground could be as early as six months,” he said. “We’re looking at construction of anywhere from 120 to 180 days. That’s erecting it. To fill in the box, you’re looking at another six to eight months.”
Hall said the facility would be financed over a 10-year period with $1 million down payment.
“This has been a topic since 1994,” he said. “When the sales tax passed in 1994, they put that as one of the issues to be addressed. When it renewed in 2001, it was on there to be addressed. In 2011, it’s an issue to be addressed, and this commission is addressing it by putting it to a vote of the public.”
Public meetings have been scheduled every Monday in January and February starting next Monday at 7 p.m. at the Parks and Rec Center at 1109 W. Seventh Street. The meetings are open to the public. People are encouraged to give city staff input or ask questions.