Government & Politics

Turf gym, lazy river and more: Will this JoCo town finally get its community center?

Proposed Shawnee Community Center features pool with slides, splash pad, turf field, indoor track, playgrounds and more

Voters will decide whether to approve a property tax increase to fund the construction of the proposed Shawnee Community Center this May.
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Voters will decide whether to approve a property tax increase to fund the construction of the proposed Shawnee Community Center this May.

At least twice a week, Shawnee resident Katie Rea and her family make the 20 minute drive to the Lenexa Rec Center — the closest facility that offers the basketball courts, workout classes and swimming pools they can enjoy at the same time.

But when Rea pictures a community center, she imagines a facility that she, her husband and two children can ride bikes to, one that could serve as a meeting spot for her daughter’s Girl Scout troop and a place to swim that isn’t so far away. That’s why Rea is looking forward to a long-awaited community vote this May that could bring these amenities closer to home.

Shawnee voters will receive ballots in the mail after May 1 to determine whether to increase their property taxes to build a 67,707 square foot facility near 61st Street and Woodland Drive. It would have many of the typical community center features, including a lap and a recreational pool, as well as some that would be new for the area, like an indoor turf field with batting cages.

If voters approve the 20-year, $38 million bond issue, a homeowner with property valued at $263,130 would see monthly property taxes increase about $7, from $67.12 to $74.48. The increase for the year: $88.32.

“I don’t believe it would be a burden,” Rea said. “I think the community center is an investment in our city.”

But the vote will determine whether Rea and other proponents, who have been hearing about plans since the city purchased land for the facility in 2007, will finally get their community center.

The proposed Shawnee Commuinty Center would feature both indoor and outdoor amenities, some free and open to the public and others only for paying members. Members could use aquatic facilities, including a splash pad, lazy river, lap pool, hot tub and water slide. City of Shawnee

Some Shawnee residents have voiced strong opposition. At the first of two informational sessions Wednesday night, they said property owners would unfairly shoulder the burden of paying for a facility that nonresidents and renters can also use. And the bond issue comes a year after new Johnson County home assessments caused steep jumps in property taxes.

Some have organized under a Vote No: There’s a Better Way group that opposes property tax hikes and has said the project would compete against existing health and fitness facilities in Shawnee.

That group has also expressed concerns about whether the center can attract enough memberships, room rentals, swim lessons and birthday parties to meet operational costs. It criticized the city council’s special approval of $500,000 in bond money to subsidize the facility’s first-year operations.

Meanwhile, Rea has lent her support to a Vote Yes Shawnee Rec Center campaign.

Plans for some sort of community facility date back before the city purchased the 26 acres of land. Parks and Recreation surveys showed residents were interested in a recreational facility, particularly if it had pools.

But the recession stalled plans, even as some residents continued to support the project in polls and surveys in the years since. Plans expanded to include other citizen priorities, such as a running track and fitness equipment.

Surveys in 2015 and 2017, according to Parks and Recreation officials, indicated that at least 60 percent of respondents were in favor of the project.

“I think there has always been a community expectation that there is going to be a recreational facility at that site,” said Shawnee Councilwoman Stephanie Meyer. “‘When are we getting a community center?’ has been the number one question that I get.”

Last year, the council approved feasibility studies for the project and later presented design, construction and financing plans in public meetings.

The proposed facility features both indoor and outdoor amenities, some that will always be free and open to the public and others only for paying members.

The free facilities include outdoor and indoor playgrounds, an outdoor walking trail with fitness stations, a fishing pond, a cyclocross track and the center lounge with free Wi-fi. The site connects to the Clear Creek Trail.

The proposed Shawnee Community Center would include an indoor playground that would be free and open to the public. City of Shawnee

A paid membership gives access to a turf gym, a multi-activity gym, indoor walking track, outdoor fitness deck and all the pools: one with a slide, another for laps, a splashpad, a hot tub and a leisure pool with a lazy river. Members can also take fitness classes.

“Right now we’re really lacking that facility that you can go and take your family and go to the pool and work out,” Meyer said. “This is going to be a more robust opportunity.”

Plans also include classroom space, birthday party rental rooms and a child care area. Seniors could use the SilverSneakers program to cover membership through their insurance.

But it’s the indoor turf field with batting cages that community leaders say would set the facility apart.

“That’s a pretty unique amenity for our area,” said Parks and Recreation board member Jennifer Riggs. “And there will be opportunities to rent that space for local teams.”

Memberships cost $480 a year, $360 for youth ages 2 to 17, $420 for seniors, $840 for families of up to five, and $480 for senior couples.

Day passes are proposed at $8, with a $3 child care fee. And non-residents would pay around 30 percent more.

For comparison, Lenexa charges adults $682 for memberships that include exercise classes, while Overland Park charges $550.

At Wednesday’s informational session, city officials said that while they have budgeted as if the center will operate at a deficit for its first five years, conservative estimates show that it should recover up to 88 percent of its costs by the third year of operations.

Other community centers have recovered costs much more quickly, Meyer said, as they move toward a goal of breaking even each year.

“We have every reason to expect that will be the case,” Meyer said. “We have the residents’ demand and the interest.”

What residents should know

The next informational meeting about the community center will be from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Monday, April 29, at the Monticello Library, 22435 W. 66th St. The city’s presentation begins at 6:30 p.m.

The deadline to register to vote is April 30. Ballots will be mailed to residents after May 1 and must be received by the Johnson County Election Office by noon May 21. Voters are encouraged to postmark them by May 17 to make sure they are counted.

Residents can access a property tax calculator at to see how their property taxes would be affected. Click “Proposed Community Center.”

Katy Bergen covers Johnson County for The Kansas City Star. She is a graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism.