A 66,000-square-foot community center with indoor and outdoor pools, a fitness center and an indoor walking track could be in the future for Merriam residents.
City Council members June 26 voted unanimously to approve a mail-in ballot that would allow Merriam residents to vote on whether to build a new community center to replace the Irene B. French Community Center or to renovate the existing one.
The site for the new center would be at Vavra Park, at 6040 Slater St., and would cost the city $30 million, while renovating the existing facility — at 5701 Merriam Drive — would cost $20 million. City Council members agreed that money would be spent more wisely to start the project from scratch.
“It’s $20 million and we don’t know if it’s going to do the job,” said Merriam Councilman Al Frisby of renovating the more than 100-year-old building. “For $10 million more, the city could have two swimming pools and a new community center.”
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To fund the new community center, the city would issue 10-year bonds of up to $24 million. Merriam residents would pay a quarter-cent sales tax over 10 years to pay for the bonds.
The city conducted a community survey in 2015 and a recreation survey in 2016 to determine what services and recreational activities were most important to Merriam residents. In the surveys, 87 percent of residents said it was important to support a community center while 83 percent said it was important to support a pool.
Among the most desirable facilities were an indoor pool, an indoor walking trail and a gym, said City Administrator Chris Engel.
“Most of the things they wanted we are not offering,” Engel said of the current community center.
Childcare was also a concern among many residents in the survey, council members said.
“We don’t have a way to provide childcare for parents who might want to come up during the day or even in the evenings to take advantage of a program,” said Councilwoman Nancy Hupp. “I think we are missing the ability to serve a big portion of our population because of that.”
Engel said the community center would serve as a gathering place for residents to socialize with neighbors and engage in the community. “We want people to share ideas and their values and their thoughts and their opinions in a place like this.”
The new facility will also include free Wi-Fi and a lounge area.
Ballots will be mailed to registered Merriam voters at the end of August and must be returned to the Johnson County Election Office by noon on Sept. 15.