Merriam Mayor Ken Sissom could be forgiven for saying “1912” instead of “2012” as he summarized events leading up to a public meeting on a proposed new community center for the city.
In 2012, the city began studying the cost of upgrades to the Merriam Aquatic Center and the Irene B. French Community Center — the first steps in a process that ended in January with a recommendation to build a new center with indoor pool instead of renovating the two old facilities.
In 1912, theMerriam School, which is now the community center — celebrated its first birthday.
And on April 25, the same building played host to the public meeting, where its past and future were very much on the minds of the mayor, other city officials and residents.
About 40 residents joined members of the City Council, the Parks & Recreation Advisory Board and the Parks Facilities Steering Committee to discuss the five-member committee’s recommendation that the city build a new center, which could cost $25 to $30 million.
Residents will have final say on the proposal. A public vote, date yet to be determined, will be held on a proposed quarter-cent sales tax increase to fund a 20-year bond to pay for the bulk of the project. If it passes, the annual cost to Merriam residents would be about $32 per person, said City Administrator Chris Engel.
The bulk of the cost would be borne by out-of-town shoppers. For every $1 in sales tax revenue generated by Merriam residents in the city, $4.67 is generated by non-residents, the largest such “pull” rate of any city in Kansas, Engel said.
Several residents at the meeting asked about the fate of the current community center, citing its historic significance.
Tammy Pittman-Stuhlman, a lifelong Merriam resident whose family’s business, Robert Pittman Moving Co., occupied another landmark building downtown, said Merriam shouldn’t feel pressure to build a modern community center/pool just because other area cities have.
“History is as important as recreation, and we have a lot of history here,” she said. “Merriam doesn’t need to be like Overland Park or Lenexa.”
Some attendees said they wanted to know the fate of the old building before voting on a new one. Engel said a decision on the building would not likely be made before the vote.
When residents continued to ask about it, Engel indicated the building will likely be torn down, due to several problems related to its age, its location in a flood plain and the fact that it has been added onto several times, which has diminished its value from a preservationist standpoint.
“I wish we could make changes here moving forward, but it’s becoming harder and harder to hold onto that dream,” Sissom told attendees. “I wish it was in better shape.”
Upgrades to the old building would cost about $3 to $5 million, Engel told residents. A renovation would cost $12 to $15 million. But even then, he and other staff members and officials said, the building wouldn’t be able to support programming Merriam residents said in surveys they want.
A “destination playground” or amphitheater could be built on the site, or it could just be turned into a large green space, Engel said.
The new center, which would sit on the 5-acre site currently occupied by the aquatic center, would cost more to run, but it would bring in proportionately more revenue than the current center and pool, Engel said. As a result, the city would likely spend about $630,000 annually to run the new center, $90,000 less than it would cost to run the old center and pool.
Revenue generated through classes, programs and rentals are projected to be substantially higher at the new center.
If the new center is built, residents will pay the same monthly fees they pay at the current center, Engel said. Non-resident fees would increase.