Joint meeting of steering committee/city council helps bring plan closer to completion

On Wed., Nov. 2, members of the Recreational Facilities Steering Committee and the city’s governing body attended a joint meeting to discuss the final direction of a Facilities Master Plan. The goal of the meeting was to narrow down concepts of what a new facility might include, including a preferred conceptual site design.

The meeting highlighted anticipated capital and operational costs associated with the concepts. Amenities presented in the concepts were based on top preferences respondents identified in a statistically-valid survey. Those attending the meeting were provided the opportunity to provide feedback by placing a dot on the conceptual site design, to indicate preferences, and including whether or not to include indoor aquatics.

One result of the meeting was a consensus decision that if facilities were built, they would be located at the north end of the property in Vavra Park to maximize potential parking capacity with the community center positioned on the east and aquatics on the west. At this time, the plan includes both indoor and outdoor aquatics.

Capital costs to build these facilities ranges from $23–$25 million, including site preparation. Operational costs are anticipated to be in the $1.3–$1.5 million range, but cost recovery is anticipated to be $1.1 million, meaning that approximately 25 percent of the operation would be covered by taxes and 75 percent recovered in user fees. This is a significant shift from current operations which are 18–20 percent cost recovery for IBFCC and 40– 50 percent for the MAC.

Next, consultants will update concept using feedback from the Nov. 2 to develop the Facilities Master Plan’s final stage, which will include even more detailed capital and operational costs. This information is critical for the creation a draft Facilities Master Plan document scheduled for a presentation at the Dec. 12 city council meeting.

Following the council presentation, the public will have an opportunity to provide input on the plan Dec. 13, at 7 p.m., at the IBFCC. Once public feedback collected from the meeting is reviewed, a final document will go before city council on Jan. 9. The acceptance of this document by council will simply acknowledge the work accomplished, an understanding implications associated with building new facilities. A decision about which of three options to pursue will begin in the Spring of 2017:

  1. fix mechanical / structural issues in existing facilities;
  2. demolish and remodel sections of existing facilities, or
  3. build new, will be a 2018 budget discussion topic.

FAQ: Parks Facilities Master Plan

What is this I hear about our recreational facilities?

The community center and aquatic center are at the end of their useful lives, and the costs of maintenance and repairs are becoming unsustainable. Instead of perpetuating the use of expensive Band-Aids to fix problems, the city council chose a proactive and thoughtful process to explore several possible solutions. Remember, the pool is more than 30-years-old and sections of the community center are more than 100-years-old!

What’s wrong with the current facilities?

We’ve gotten a lot of use out of these facilities, but constant, expensive and unbudgeted repairs to their systems and structures continue to increase. Additionally, neither facility meets Federal ADA requirements or current life-safety and building code requirements. To achieve compliance in these areas, many of the needed updates trigger a cascade of repairs to other outdated systems, which increases costs and makes updates more difficult and expensive. It is also useful to know the current community center was not built for use as a community center, and its layout was not designed or intended for its current use. Another issue is the community center is situated in the floodplain, so the basement is below the water table and regularly floods.

Can’t we update our current facilities?

Absolutely — that is an option. We have a good understanding of what updating our current facilities would cost. In 2014, Larkin Aquatics did a comprehensive study of the aquatic center, including mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and ADA requirements. That detailed report indicated needed updates to the aquatic center will range between $600,000 – $900,000 plus an eventual $3,500,000 to replace the basin. At the same time, the city hired Susan Richards Johnson and Associates to complete a similar comprehensive analysis of the community center. That analysis provided detailed solutions addressing the continued use of the existing facility with costs ranging from $6,000,000 — $10,000,000.

So why are we talking about new facilities?

When contemplating the high costs of updating the existing facilities, it became financially prudent to ask, “What would a new facility cost?” There was also a stark realization that spending all that money to update our facilities would still leave the city with a 30-year-old pool and a 100-year-old community center. Firsthand experience dictates that in another 30 years it will probably be easier and less expensive to maintain a 30-year-old facility than to maintain 60-year-old and 130-year-old facilities. At that point, the concern quickly became that the cost of keeping the existing facilities, even if updated, might actually cost taxpayers more over the next 30-40 years than building something new that (1) meets the needs of our current and future community; (2) is more appropriately sized; and (3) uses current building codes, modern materials and modern systems. We needed more details to make an informed decision.

Where are we now?

A steering committee of Merriam residents was appointed to work with Pros Consulting to determine what a new facility would look like that appropriately meets the needs of the community. That process involves collecting public input via surveys and public meetings, and includes a market study, business plan, and a financial analysis. The final Facilities Master Plan will provide a clear understanding of what the community wants in a new facility, if a new facility is the desired option to address our facilities needs.

What will a new facility cost?

Currently unknown — we’re not there yet. A detailed cost estimate to build and annually operate a new facility will be included in the final Facilities Master Plan. That final plan will go before city council on January 9, 2017, and include a concept based on features and amenities residents said they want. However, the facility should be designed in scope and size to annually support itself at an appropriate level of funding.

What happens after the final Facilities Master Plan is presented to City Council on January 9, 2017?

On January 9, 2017, the city council will only vote to acknowledge receipt of the final plan and the recommendation of the steering committee. The city council’s acceptance of that recommendation and final plan will not bind the city council to any one specific choice, it only provides the required details needed to begin the larger conversation about the future of our recreation facilities.

When will a decision be made on the facilities?

As with all major capital projects, it is anticipated the preferred solution will be discussed in public meetings as part of the 5-year capital improvement project budget. These discussions will begin in March 2017.

How will the city pay for updated or new facilities?

Currently undetermined — we’re just not there yet. Depending on the preferred solution, the funding strategy would include budgeted reserves, the issuance of bonds, or a combination of the two options. More than likely, any solution exceeding $5 million will require issuing bonds.

Will there be a vote if bonds are included in the funding strategy?

If funding involves issuing bonds or raising property and/or sales taxes, a public vote is recommended (and likely required by law).

Where can I get more information about this issue?

The next steering committee meeting will be on November 2, and a draft final plan will be shared with the city council on December 12th. The following day, on December 13 at 7 p.m., there will be an Parks Facilities Master Plan open house for the public at the Irene B. French Community Center.

All information is posted on as it becomes available. Also, this blog is dedicated to the project and is updated weekly with new posts.

Community members tour area facilities

On Monday, October 24, four city council members, three steering committee members, one citizen, two city staff members, and three consultants toured five area recreational facilities. Each facility provided a unique perspective into how a variety of local communities provide recreational services.

Here’s a rundown of facilities the group toured:

Olathe Community Center
Age: 2 years
Size: 71,168 square feet
Construction Cost: $28.5 million
Annual Operation Cost: $1.978 million
Features/Amenities: indoor pool, fitness center, meeting rooms, child watch, walking track, dedicated indoor child play area, three regulation gymnasiums, artwork
Miscellaneous: Located in a park setting

Sylvester Powell Community Center, Mission
Age: 17 years/renovation after 5 years
Size: 80,000 square feet
Construction Cost: $16.5 million
Annual Operation Cost: $2.125 million
Features/Amenities: indoor pool, fitness center, walking track, meeting rooms, 3 regulation gymnasiums, congregation space for adults
Miscellaneous: closest community center to Merriam

High Blue Wellness, Belton
Size: 56,000 square feet
Construction Cost: Unknown
Annual Operation Cost: $1.6 million
Features/Amenities: indoor pool, outdoor aquatics, specialized fitness space, one gymnasium
Miscellaneous: located in a park setting

The View, Grandview
Age: 13 years
Size: 60,000 square feet
Construction Cost: $12 million
Annual Operation Cost: unknown
Features/Amenities: small indoor pool, art space, congregation space, incorporation of art, meeting rooms, fitness center, gymnasium

Gamber Community Center, Lee’s Summit
Age: 8 years
Size: 19,000 square feet
Construction Cost: $3.75 million
Annual Operation Cost: $453,600
Features/Amenities: meeting/congregational space, incorporation of art, park setting, outdoor amenities, small fitness center, small classrooms
Miscellaneous: originally built as a senior center

The tours were intended to provide examples of building layout, perceived value of services offered, as well as the size, scope, and operations (including staffing requirements) of similar amenities. Overall, it’s beneficial to see similar spaces in use when discussing options for building a new space. It is also helps to hear about lessons learned during the planning and construction process. Lastly, because of the varying ages of the facilities toured it allowed the group to see how interior details can be an important factor to consider when budgeting for long-term operational costs.

Next Steps
As we near the end of the process to develop a Facilities Master Plan, mark your calendars for a public meeting at the Irene B. French Community Center on December 13 at 7 p.m. This is when the Master Plan consultants will present their draft recommendation of what a new facility should include to meet the community’s needs. After receiving public input, the consultants will present the final recommendation to Merriam City Council at the January 9 council meeting.

Upon acceptance of the recommendation, city council will begin discussion about how to proceed. Council will also review estimated costs for two other complete concepts that were developed as part of a previous assessment. City staff’s objective will be providing council members with the detailed information needed to make the most informed decision.

What the community wants and how to fund it

Recently, some residents have requested specific information about funding for building new recreational facilities. This indicates that city staff needs to do more public education about this issue and how the Parks and Recreation Facilities Master Plan fits into the overall process currently underway.


In 2015, Susan Richards Johnson and Associates completed a Comprehensive Facility Assessment of the Irene B. French Community Center that provided three options for moving forward with the aging facility:

  1. Infrastructure repairs to the existing facility with minor renovations to improve building flow
  2. Demolish a portion of it and renovate the existing community center
  3. Build a new community center

In spring 2014, Larkin and Associates conducted a similar assessment to explore future scenarios for the Merriam Aquatic Center and its infrastructure concerns.

Results of the studies made it apparent that something needs to be done with these facilities, and that developing a Facilities Master Plan would be a critical next step. Public input plays a large role in working toward the Plan’s completion, and during the process, staff has gathered much data about what the community wants — what types of facilities residents want, and even the types of features the facilities should include. The Master Plan and recommendations will be presented to Merriam City Council on December 12, but no council action will taken until the January 9, 2017 council meeting.

Where support is limited

Recent survey findings have provided valuable information about what the community wants. These findings were presented in the past couple of blog posts. This post will look at areas where support is limited. The best indicator of this can be found responses to the following three survey questions:

  1. If a new aquatic center is developed, which includes features you chose as most important, how often would you or other members of your household use the facility?
  2. If a community recreation center is developed which includes features you chose as most important, how often would you or other members of your household use the facility?
  3. It is likely municipal bonds would be required to finance the development of a new or renovated community recreation center. Please indicate which option you would most likely support the City taking?

Findings showed that 36% of respondents stated they are not sure if they would visit, and 22% indicated they would visit a new aquatic center less than monthly even if it included features deemed most important.

Regarding the community center, 58% were not sure if they would visit and 49% said they would visit less than once per month. National benchmarking statistics indicate that 70% of a cities’ population would not use facilities similar to those discussed. Merriam’s survey responses are greater than benchmarks, so it’s important to delve deeper into the data based on household demographics.

Regarding an aquatic center, households with children under 10 had the lowest percentage of usage certainty at 6%, while household 55 and older were most unsure at 63.3%. Those who would visit less than monthly ranged from a low for households 55 and older at 13.5%, to a high among households 20 – 54 with no children at 34.7%. Clearly, families with children still in the household say they would use it most.

As for a community center, once again households with children under 10 had the lowest percentage of uncertainty at 17%, while households 55 and older were highest at 37.7%. Those less likely to use it monthly were households 55 and older (20.1%), to a high among households with children 10 – 19 (24.1%).

The funding issue

The next factor to consider is the funding question in which five options were presented: increase local property taxes, increase local sales tax, increase a combination of property and sales tax, no increase in taxes, or unsure. This data reveals that those unsure ranged from a low for households with children under 10 (18.5%) to a high among households 55 and older (27.6%). Those unsupportive of any increase ranged from a low in households 20–54 with no children (16.8%), to a high for households 55 and older with no children (27.1%).

Unsurprisingly, the issue of funding could become controversial. Upon completion of the Facilities Master Plan process, staff and City Council will have a clearer understanding of the costs associated with construction, but also the needs and support of Merriam residents.

At the end of the master planning process, staff will recommend a facilities concept and a funding strategy. If the funding strategy includes issuing bonds, staff will recommend an initiative that requires a vote for the public residents to voice their support and decide how to proceed.

Process and early concept renderings

At Monday evening’s Merriam City Council meeting, staff presented an update on the Facilities Master Plan process, which included early concepts and renderings. This post summarizes the presentation.

First off, it’s important to emphasize that everything is still conceptual at this point — much like the previous studies completed by Susan Richards Johnson and Associates or Larkin Aquatics. View FINAL Larkin Aquatics Study – Merriam Aquatic Center.

Here’s an illustration showing the long process of creating a final plan — items in red are complete; those in green are in progress, and the ones in black have not begun.

Master Plan Process Graphic Crop

As you can see, we still have a way to go and are very eager to reach the finish line. Conducting the statistically-valid survey was a key part of the process, and since receiving the final report, staff has devoted much time analyzing the results. The past few blog posts discussed those findings.

Three concepts emerged from the survey findings. These concepts are based solely on what residents say they want new facilities to include, and all three were presented to the Steering Committee on September 22. These preliminary plans show approximate square footage to determine if city-owned land could be used.

Please keep in mind that these are only preliminary concepts that are not attached to costs or financial expenditures at this time.

Concepts (presentation and renderings available online)

Concept A (~65,000 GSF)

New Facility in Vavra Park including Indoor & Outdoor Aquatic Center

Concept B (~53,000 GSF)

New Facility in Vavra Park including Outdoor Aquatics

Concept C (~53,000 – 65,000 GSF ~18,000 GSF IBFCC)

New Facility in Vavra Park, including indoor and/or outdoor aquatics renovation of a portion of the existing Irene B. French Community Center

* Adaptive reuse of the 1911 and 1938 construction into an art center with surrounding park use development.

Studies show that Vavra Park is large enough to accommodate each of these concepts, but the sizes represented in the renderings are estimates. Program areas in each concept will be studied further, as we must identify a threshold to determine cost recovery of operational expenses — and multiple operational scenarios will be reviewed for each concept

Next steps in the process:

  • Staff and consultants will tour other facilities in the region
  • Consultants will prepare a business plan, including:
  • Per unit cost for membership
  • Core programs based on new space
  • Operational budget
  • Operational management standards
  • The Steering Committee will meet on November 2, 2016 to discuss the business plan
  • Final master plan will go before Merriam City Council on December 12, 2016

For more information:

View a presentation of the concept renderings

Read the full report of survey findings

Two key sets of findings from the Parks Facilities Survey

During this past week, staff has delved deeper into results of the statistically-valid Parks Facilities Survey we discussed in our last post. Because of the detail involved, it is important for everyone to understand all aspects of the data. This week we’ll explore two sets of the survey findings: how many years respondents have lived in Merriam; and the value residents place on having a community recreation center in Merriam.

First, the number of years respondents have lived in Merriam was quantified using two different variables. First, by age only, then by households with and without children. Here are the results:

Under 35

72% have lived in Merriam
less than 10 years

Age 35-44

64% have lived in Merriam
less than 10 years

Age 55-64

58% have lived in Merriam 11
– 30 years

Age 45 – 65

64% have lived in Merriam 11
– 30 years

Over 65

74% have lived in Merriam over 21 years

These two breakdowns indicate that people choose to live or move to Merriam to raise their family, then choose to stay here as “empty nesters.” This information, when compared to city household demographics, breaks down the following way:

Age of People in Household

Percentage of Population

Under age 10


Age 10 – 19


Age 20 – 34


Age 35 – 44


Age 45 – 65


Over age 65


These numbers are significant when trying to determine what amenities and programs are needed for various facilities. It will be important that whatever decision is made it will meet the needs of future generations.

The second question asked a series of value statements related to a community recreation center. There were five options to consider: strongly agree, agree, neutral, disagree, or strongly disagree. The three statements reviewed included:

  • It is valuable to me to have a community recreation center
  • I believe a community recreation center boosts property values
  • The City of Merriam needs a new community recreation center

The results of these questions by household revealed the following:

Value Statement

Household children

 under 10

Households children

10 – 19


20 – 54

no children

Households 55

no children

It is valuable to me to have a community recreation center.





I believe a community recreation center boosts property values.





The City of Merriam needs a new community recreation center.





In addition, staff reviewed responses of those that disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement. Those results were:

Value Statement

Household children

under 10

Households children

10 – 19


20 – 54

no children

Households 55

no children

It is valuable to me to have a community recreation center.





I believe a community recreation center boosts property values.





The City of Merriam needs a new community recreation center.





Results indicate that residents see value in recreation services and amenities in Merriam — both personally and in property values. It also shows support for a new community recreation center.

Staff will continue to review the survey information in the coming days and weeks, ensures that a resident-driven approach is taken to determine a long-term solution. Carefully reviewing the data and using the different data sets for review, will help staff make an informed and educated recommendation to City Council regarding the strategy for moving forward with our Parks and Recreation facilities.

Contact Parks & Recreation Director Anna Slocum with questions or to get additional information.

Survey results bring community needs into focus

At the Sept. 22 Facilities Master Plan Steering Committee meeting, staff from Pros Consulting, SFS Architecture, ETC Institute, and consultants from Confluence presented findings from a statistically valid survey; proposals for a preliminary program plan; and an analysis of site configurations. When combined, this information will make up a majority of the Facilities Master Plan, slated to go before City Council in December. If Council adopts the Master Plan, work will begin to develop an Implementation Plan, which would include financing options and other considerations.

Right now, we’re still in the process of trying to determine what Merriam residents want for their Parks & Rec facilities, and recent survey results help to provide a greater understanding. We’ll look at some key findings in this post, but you are welcome to read the full report in the “Master Plan Documents” section of the Merriam website.

A statistically valid survey
The survey required 400 respondents to be considered statistically valid. We had 522 people complete and return the survey, ensuring a 95 percent confidence level with a /-4.3 percent margin of error — anything under 5 percent is considered valid.

Survey respondents represented an equal distribution of ages, length of Merriam residency, and gender (male/female). In addition, information related to race identification was consistent with current census data. The number of participants that voted in elections during the past two years was 85 percent. The cross-tabulated data was broken down into four categories: households with children under 10; households with children ages 10–19; households 20–54 with no children; and households 55 and older with no children.

Top Choices for Amenities
When asked which three items would be most important to include in the design of a new or redesigned aquatic center, respondents in each age group chose either the zero depth entry pool or lazy river. The next choices were mixed. Water slides was the third choice for households with children, but households without children want an outdoor pool with lap lanes. The fourth choice was a mix of spray pad, outdoor pool lap lanes, water slides and diving boards. An interesting fact from this question is that in all households with children, as well as those 20 – 54 without children, 87 percent indicated that at least one of the amenities should be included at the pool. This shows strong support for an aquatic center.

A similar question was asked in regards to a community center. All households chose an indoor jogging walking track as their first choice. The second choice for households with children 10 -19, and both categories of households without children was cardiovascular/fitness equipment, whereas those in households with children under age 10 selected the indoor leisure pool for their second choice.

A clear shift in priorities is evident further down the list. As with the aquatic center, the percentage of households selecting at least one item was extremely high, while households age 55 and older with no children were the lowest at 77 percent.

The last finding we’ll highlight pertains to support for different financing options. Two household categories chose a combination of a local sales tax increase, and an increase for local property taxes as a first choice. One household category chose a local sales tax increase, and one household category did not know or was not sure what they wanted. The second choice revealed the opposite result: two household categories chose the local sales tax increase; one household category selected the combination of sales tax and property tax; and the fourth household category didn’t choose either.

Key Findings
Consultants from ETC Institute provided the following summary of results:

  • There’s strong support new aquatic features.
  • Aquatic features rated as most desired are: a lazy river and zero depth entry.
  • Residents want indoor recreation facilities and amenities.
  • Top three priorities are: indoor track, fitness equipment, and indoor leisure pool.
  • Compared to other priorities, development of improve indoor facilities was rated as the most important amenity.
  • 43 percent of respondents in all household categories indicated they would use an aquatic facility with the amenities most important to them on a weekly basis.
  • 51 percent of respondents in all household categories indicated they would use a community center with the amenities most important to them on a weekly basis.

Contact Parks and Recreation Director Anna Slocum with questions. And check this blog each week for more project updates.

View a presentation of the survey results

Read the full report of survey findings