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Excitement — and serious reservations — meet community center proposals
“Wow.” “Exciting.” “Really cool.”
Also: “Expensive.” “Unfeasible without a partner.” “Of questionable benefit to Prairie Village residents.”
Those were among the sentiments members of the Prairie Village Parks and Recreation Committee expressed Wednesday as they reacted to a report outlining potential community center/natatorium projects that might be built around the city’s existing pool complex.
While there was a general consensus among the committee members that the largest complex detailed in the report — a $45 million construction project that would bring an Olympic-sized indoor swimming pool and 1,500 seats of spectator seating to Harmon Park — was the best option to pursue, nearly every member expressed serious reservations about the viability of the project.
The committee felt the other two options, a $43 million complex that would have a 25-meter pool, and a $5 million project that would include primarily meeting space, wouldn’t offer amenities sufficiently different enough from existing centers (like Overland Park’s Matt Ross Community Center) to make Prairie Village’s facility a draw. But even with a world-class natatorium, which could attract large regional swimming competitions, committee members fretted that Prairie Village residents might not see benefits commensurate with their investment.
“I think the people who would end up benefitting the most from big competitions like that would be our neighboring communities where there are hotels,” said committee member Eric Blevins.
The sticker shock of projected construction and operations costs was palpable, as well.
Chris Engel, assistant to the Prairie Village city administrator, walked the committee through the finances that would be required to build such a facility. To finance construction of a $45 million facility through a bond measure would require an 8 mill increase in the city’s property tax rate, amounting to an additional $200 per year for the average Prairie Village homeowner.
The committee members stressed that, to be feasible, a project would require potential partners like the Johnson County Park and Recreation District or the Shawnee Mission School District help mitigate the cost to Prairie Village taxpayers. Engel noted that the YMCA had expressed interest in a partnership as well, but, because the Y would likely seek to operate the facility as one of its own, the particulars of the financial arrangement would be complicated.
The committee agreed to recommend that the Prairie Village City Council explore the $45 million option, though it expressed significant reservations about parking issues, the benefit to Prairie Village residents, and the cost of building the facility.
The Prairie Village City Council is scheduled to hear a presentation on the report at its next meeting, Monday, Jan. 21.
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