At two separate open houses in June, Merriam residents showed up to City Hall to see the proposed plans for their new community center. On the walls hung posters listing its many amenities and a video showcased the site plan.
“We asked the public what they saw as the future of recreation in Merriam, and we’re going to try to do our best to provide that,” said City Administrator Chris Engel at the June 21 open house.
But some Merriam residents were not enthusiastic about the proposed plans, confronting city council members with their frustrations.
The proposed design showed a courtyard, meeting and event spaces, large windows and a parking lot — one that will be shared with the new Antioch branch of the Johnson County Public Library.
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The cost of the center is an estimated $30 million, with $6 million coming from the city’s savings and the other $24 million from bonds that will tax citizens for 10 years.
Among the promised amenities are a fitness center and gym, an art gallery, a daycare, an indoor pool and an outdoor pool.
The appeal of a new pool is what inspired many residents to vote for the new community center back in 2016, when it appeared on a ballot initiative. It received 67.5 percent approval.
“I’m excited about the fact we were promised an indoor and outdoor pool because we really need one,” said Susan Peach, a resident who came to an open house meeting.
But the pool shown in the proposal plans was not up to the standards some Merriam residents expected.
Eight residents came to the city council meeting on a recent Monday to discuss their concerns with the proposed pool.
They commented that the current outdoor pool has eight lanes that are 50 meters long while the proposed outdoor pool will only have six lanes at 25 meters long. The plan would also reduce the size of the baby pool and take away some high-dive boards.
Some residents suspected that sharing part of the land with the library was reducing space that could be used to expand the pool.
“We’re giving up valuable space in our community for it,” said Suzanne Downey, who also serves on the parks and recreation board.
Downey also commented that a smaller pool could cause more crowding and lead to safety concerns.
John Steve, a Merriam resident who is a landscape architect, said that he figured there was room for a larger pool, and that it could be done within the budget.
The city is working with Clark Enersen Architects to design the center and McCarthy Construction on building it. CBC Real Estate will manage the project and serve as a watchdog, Engel said.
“This is not like something we usually do so we need them for technical expertise to deliver the things we promised,” he said. “We want to go through with what the people voted for.”
Council members listened to the residents’ complaints and said that they plan to look again at the design and adjust their plans based on the meeting.
“I just felt strongly that we needed to take a little more serious look at it before signing off on it,” said David Neal, a city council member.
Neal is now doing research on how the city could best use their budget to change the design plan to better suit residents’ needs.
“I think there’s going to have to be some creative thinking done on what are we spending and what the tradeoffs are,” he said.
“We want to have a decent community center and make sure we’re not getting less than what we started with,” Peach said.
In response to concerns, the Merriam City Council directed project managers at a July 16 work session to explore additional options, including concepts for six lanes versus eight lanes in the outdoor pool, plus creating a separate area for diving.
The proposed outdoor pool designs are expected to go to the council for discussion and a possible vote at its next meeting Monday, July 23. The council must vote by Aug. 10 to meet the Sept. 5 planning commission schedule.