About 30 local residents turned out Monday to discuss the plans for a community recreation center. The meeting took place at the youth center for the fourth time, and meetings throughout February will continue to gather community input to shape a plan for the building and determine its offerings and costs. L&T photo/Earl Watt
The Rec. Center, if approved, would be built with 1-cent sales tax dollars. Ongoing funding would be provided through membership fees and charges to use the facilily. No property tax dollars are expected to be used for construction or operation. “That way, those that don’t want to use it never have to pay for it,” City Manager Mark Hall said.
By EARL WATT
• Leader & Times
Local residents and Liberal city staff continued discussions Monday evening about a recreation center that is being planned.
The first point City Manager Mark Hall wanted to make was how the project would be funded.
“It is important to make sure everyone knows that this will be paid with 1-cent sales tax money,” he said. “This will not be funded with property taxes. This is not a tax increase.”
In November, voters overwhelmingly approved the 1-cent sales tax extension for another 10 years. The sales tax had 82 percent voter approval.
That money is expected to generate about $33 million over the next 10 years. A portion of those funds would be used to erect the recreation center, and user fees and memberships would be used to fund the operation of the facility on an ongoing basis.
By knowing how much membership revenue would be generated, Hall said that Parks and Recreation Director Gary Scott could determine how much he could spend to operate the facility.
“He would know how many teachers he could hire on a monthly basis,” Hall said, referring to the use of specialized classrooms that could be used for self-help classes to nutrition, art and more.
“There could even be a quilting class,” Hall said.
In addition to classrooms, the facility would have a large multi-purpose area that could handle a variety of activities.
“The floor could change,” Hall said. It could have a tennis court, basketball courts, soccer, and turf could be rolled out for sports like baseball, football and more.
Weight machines and an indoor walking track were also discussed as well as other exercise equipment.
The project already has seed money. The Liberal City Commission has set aside $1 million should the initiative pass.
To determine an overall cost, the city is taking public input to develop a final plan, and then the public will be presented two critical pieces of information — the cost to build the facility and the cost to operate the facility.
“The commission made a public promise on providing that information before the vote,” Hall said. “That’s what we are going to provide.”
One part of the project that could add substantial expense was a pool.
Estimates put the pool at around $1.2 million, but ongoing costs could be the biggest concern. A similar pool had a daily operational cost of $1,500 according to Hall.
Janet Willimon, a candidate for city commission, said she wanted a pool but didn’t know how we would be able to pay for it.
“We have to be realistic,” she said.
Hall said that if the facility did have a pool, it would be a saltwater pool which could reduce some of the operational costs, but indoor pools are substantially more expensive to operate than outdoor pools, he said.
Local resident Brian McMullen said that the college pool was underutilized already.
Hall added that he understood that the pool at Seward County Community College/Area Technical School was about a foot short of being regulation size for competition, and that it could be expanded for about $70,000.
If the recreation center did have a pool, attendees gave input on activities that could take place in the pool, including aquaerobics, water polo and more.
There was discussion on site location of the center, and while the city is still looking for options, one site had been eliminated — North Blue Bonnet.
“If we built it there, we don’t have enough room to relocate those fields elsewhere,” Hall said. The space is currently used for recreational soccer, football, frisbee golf and more.
The other two sites currently under consideration include space adjacent to the Seward County Event Center, and space west of Redskin Field near the Kids Inc. supply building.
“The city already owns the property and it is centrally located,” Hall said. “It isn’t all the way north or south.”
The city will continue to conduct meetings at 7 p.m. on Mondays in February at the Youth Center in Blue Bonnet Park. A final plan will be presented Feb. 28, and a public vote will take place May 10.