Northeast Joco

Park officials consider ending ties with Roeland Park Aquatic Center

File photo

Frustrated by ongoing financial losses at the Roeland Park Aquatic Center, Johnson County park officials are considering cutting the facility loose once their contract to operate the pool ends in two years.

The Johnson County Park & Recreation District’s board of commissioners last Wednesday voted to extend their current agreement to operate the aquatic center at 4843 Rosewood Drive by five months to May 2019.

After that, however, most of the board members said they were ready to end the joint arrangement that they've worked under since Roeland Park sold bonds to build the center in 1996. Part of that arrangement requires the city and district to split the center’s capital expenses and its losses, which totaled around $175,000 for the district alone last year.

Chairman Paul Snider said the board was still willing to negotiate with Roeland Park, but he said he wanted to insulate the district from ongoing losses in any future agreement.

“If some plan can be made where we can still operate the pool, great; but we need to be open to other options to make sure that we don’t continue to lose that amount of money,” Snider said.

Keith Moody, Roeland Park’s city administrator, said city officials have been aware of the board’s concerns for several months, and have formed a committee to gather information and consider options for the swimming facility’s future. The committee is expected to present its findings and suggestions to the full city council this summer.

“This will give the City Council ample time to digest that information and make a decision well before the end of our agreement” with the park district, Moody said.

The aquatic facility, at 4843 Rosewood Drive, is open year-round, using an inflatable heated dome to protect swimmers in the winter months. The dome has proven to be one of the biggest sources of financial heartburn as the two sides last fall had to spend almost $140,000 to replace the heater/blower equipment that keep the dome inflated. In addition, the dome is nearing the end of its estimated life and a new one would cost up to $400,000.

The 20-year agreement to operate the center originally was set to end in January 2019. But the district agreed to extend it until May 31, 2019, to complete the indoor swimming season.

The Shawnee Mission School District is building an indoor competitive aquatic center at Lenexa City Center, which the park district is expected to help operate.

Some commissioners said they were sympathetic toward Roeland Park, which they said would have a hard time footing the entire bill for running the center.

Steve Baru has frequently criticized the district’s willingness to pay for a new activity center at the new Meadowbrook Park development in Prairie Village, which he said could have afforded to build the activity center itself.

“Here we have a city that could use our help,” Baru said.

Commissioner Leslee Rivarola added that aquatic centers typically don’t make money and most require subsidies.

“Contrary to what some believe, government is not intended to make money on everything,” Rivarola said. “Some things it does are just intended to provide service, and that’s OK.”

Other commissioners, however, said Roeland Park is in a better financial state after it raised its property taxes by 7.5 mills in 2014 in preparation for the possible loss of the Wal-Mart on Roe Boulevard, which ended up not leaving.

In addition, the city, like most municipalities in Johnson County, is expected to receive up to $1.8 million of the quarter-cent sales tax voters approved in November for a new county courthouse and coroner’s office in future years.

“The quicker we can get out of subsidizing Roeland Park the better,” said Commissioner Mike Pirner.

David Twiddy: