Maintenance challenges grow as new issues are discovered

The results of citizen satisfaction surveys consistently state that residents place a high priority on maintaining Merriam’s Parks & Rec facilities. In the 2012 survey, a question asked which Parks and Rec items should receive the most attention from City leaders in the coming years? The top five responses included:

1.  Maintenance of parks
2.  Trails
3.  Marketplace
4.  Park Amenities
5.  Fitness Center

This information provided direction for evaluating budget priorities, and during the past 4 ½ years various projects were completed to meet these needs. Staff implemented practices that improved mowing, landscaping and parks maintenance equipment, gutters and downspouts, playground equipment and monument signs, as well as renovations to the Fitness Center.

The current priorities — from an operations and services standpoint — are the Irene B. French Community Center and the Merriam Aquatic Center. When addressing the many structural and systems issues at these facilities, a review of various codes and regulations must be considered. Usually this involves additional costs to remove walls where a series of new problems are exposed. Some of the repairs for these new discoveries cost hundreds of thousands of dollars the City was not planning to spend on facilities maintenance. Yet, this is a reoccurring situation we face when working to keep facilities open and running.

The Fitness Center renovation project at the IBFCC is a fairly recent example of how planned maintenance projects can be restricted due to the age of the building and an inability to comply with building codes. The original plan was to update the space to an open floorplan, but due to fire code restrictions — including no sprinkler system — all doors and walls had to remain.

The same thing happened with updates to the Art Gallery. Circulation is difficult with small rooms and doorways, yet removing walls or widening doorways is not permitted. The hardwood floors are beautiful, but at the end of their useful life which is evident by thinning and breaking boards.

Staff does its best to maintain facilities with available resources, but structural limitations, unknown issues below the surface, cost of repairs, and the inability to meet current building codes prevent us from doing all that needs to be done. Since facility studies were completed in 2014 and 2015 additional issues have arisen. Due to all the needed repairs we know about, unknown problems we frequently encounter, and those recently discovered, there’s a major concern that renovating existing facilities might cost much more than the anticipated $10–$12 million.

At the Feb. 27, 2017 Merriam City Council meeting, Parks and Recreation Director Anna Slocum made a presentation that featured photos of many of the newest problem areas at the IBFCC and the MAC, as well as new photos of some of the known issues. View the presentation below:

Facilities Maintenance Issues (2/27/17 presentation)

Council eliminates short-term fix option for addressing issues at the Irene B. French Community Center

The heart of the Irene B. French Community Center (IBFCC) is more than 100 years old. The original stone building was Johnson County’s first K-12 school, then home to a variety of other public institutions. Over the years the original building was either added onto or modified on multiple occasions. In the late 1980s the city purchased the vacant building and made further additions and modifications to create the current community center. Now, 25 years later, the multiple additions and modifications, as well as floods and systems failures, have taken their toll and become very expensive to maintain. The IBFCC’s roof leaks and its basement floods creating hidden mold issues; the temperature is either too hot or too cold; each shift in wind direction is accompanied by a different sewer odor; original ceiling tiles intermittently fall through the existing ceiling tiles; and concrete and mortar crumbles. The city has done everything it can to keep the building in service. However, the facility is at the end of its useful life.

Similarly, the Merriam Aquatic Center (MAC) also faces serious age-related issues. The filter house and pool basins are more than 30 years old and the bathhouse older than 55 years old. Neither the IBFCC or MAC provide adequate access to people with disabilities and neither is fully compliant with modern life-safety or building codes. In short, the IBFCC and MAC require prompt attention and the city cannot continue the current practice of making expensive, unplanned repairs as they arise.

To that end, beginning in 2014 the city began engaging professional consultants to provide comprehensive assessments to determine what it would require to continue operating these facilities, specifically in the areas of mechanical, electrical, plumbing, accessibility, safety, and engineering. Findings of these studies provided detailed scenarios for addressing these issues and clearly determined that extensive, costly repairs are necessary.

Due to the high cost of those solutions, a resident steering committee was formed in late 2015 to investigate the future of recreation facilities in Merriam. As part of that year-long process there were multiple opportunities to solicit public feedback and design a concept around what residents said they want, including amenities residents indicate they would value most in a new facility. At the conclusion of that process the professional consultants presented a facility concept and business plan consistent with information gathered during extensive public engagement activities.

Now, after several years of comprehensive studies, gathering public input, and thoughtful deliberation, the city is confronted with three possible solutions: an option that addresses minimal issues and repairs, an extensive remodel option, and a build-new option. However, as staff considers these solutions and long-term budget implications, it becomes clear the first option is no longer viable and staff would like to eliminate it from future consideration.

Over the past year, as city staff worked with the public to determine an appropriate path forward, it has become very clear that our existing facilities do not meet the community’s current needs. Pursuing an option that only addresses the bare minimum issues, for an estimated combined cost of $4 – $6 million, is not forward-thinking, and does not move the needle toward meeting the community’s needs. By simply addressing our failing systems, the city would not resolve the deficiencies in our ability to offer meaningful programs or the inefficiencies of operating a community center in a 100-year-old school. Simply stated, after spending millions of dollars the current needs of Merriam residents would not be addressed as there would be few noticeable improvements.  Not to mention we would continue to operate within building spaces that are still between 30 – 100 years old and remain vulnerable to further age-related failures down the road.

Staff remains committed to facilitating a public discussion about the future of city recreation facilities. Eliminating an option from consideration that is simply a short-term fix clarifies a commitment to ensuring that current and future residents will continue to enjoy the safe, inclusive, high-quality experiences they expect and deserve from Merriam’s recreation facilities.

Final Parks Facilities Master Plan to go before Merriam City Council at tonight’s meeting


After all the studies and focus groups, surveys, tours and public meetings, the Parks Facilities Master Plan will go before the Merriam City Council at tonight’s meeting. No formal action is required by council at this time — following a presentation of the plan, members will formally acknowledge completion of the work. Discussions about facilities options are expected to continue in the following months, and anticipated to be part of upcoming budget and CIP planning discussions.

Additional information and updates about the process will be posted on this blog when available.

And remember, the public is always invited to attend City Council meetings. If you require any accommodation (i.e. qualified interpreter, large print, reader, hearing assistance) to attend, please notify the Administrative Office at 913-322-5500 prior to the beginning of the meeting (offices close at 4:30 p.m.).

Jan. 9, 2017 Merriam City Council agenda

Recap of Dec. 13, 2016 public meeting

On Tues., Dec. 13, more than 75 people attended the Facilities Master Plan Public Meeting at the Irene B. French Community Center. The meeting was intended to provide information about the plan, and receive input from the public about how to proceed if the city decides to build a new facility.

merriam-mp-optionsThe presentation included details about the planning process, how concepts were developed, key findings from multiples studies, and public input received throughout the process.

The consulting team of PROS, Confluence and SFS began in May 2016 by working with focus groups and facilitating public meetings to better understand the community’s expectations and how services are currently delivered. In addition, consultants spent time reviewing facility assessments to understand the current sites and deficiencies at facilities. This information was key to identify suitable city-owned land that could support the many activities the community desires for such a facility. Once various options were assessed, Vavra Park seemed to be the best fit due to its acreage, its proximity to a nearby residential complex with ties to the municipal plaza, and a federal land requirement in place related to recreation.

If the city ends up building a new facility, it will include many of the amenities residents identified in a statistically valid survey as items they most desire. The survey indicated that a community center should include an indoor walking / jogging track; indoor swimming pool and cardiovascular fitness.


Findings indicated that an aquatic center should include a zero depth entry pool and water slides.

merriam-findings-presentation-amenities2Results of a public meeting in August produced similar results.

Once these top features were identified, the steering committee and consulting team went on to determine that a space of 65,000 square feet would be required to house those amenities.


The space would also include community meeting areas, administration / operations, and indoor aquatics. The massing diagrams helped transition to the early conceptual design phase to determine how the facility would fit in Vavra Park.

Since indoor aquatics are a top priority, three design options were developed and presented for input, illustrating different strategies for incorporating aquatic features. The first option — referred to as the “Full Meal Deal” — includes both indoor and outdoor aquatics; Option 2 only includes indoor aquatics; and Option 3 is just outdoor aquatics. The other community center features remain constant in all versions, with costs ranging from to $24.3 million to $29.9 million.


Staff recommends financing construction, by issuing a bond paid for through sales tax. The city can also provide approximately $5 million in reserves to fund the project. The “Full Meal Deal” would require a bond of approximately $25 million with an annual payment of approximately $2 million for 20 years.  The city’s current ¼-cent sales tax generates $2 million. Due to Merriam’s pull factor (4.67 – the highest in the state of Kansas), residents would most-likely only pay $360,000 of the $2 million (less than 20 cents for every dollar of sales tax). Another way of looking at it is that each resident would contribute $32 annually, or the equivalent of one Happy Meal per month. It’s also worth noting that an increase or extension of the current ¼-cent sales tax would require a public vote.

When considering the total costs for a project of this scale understanding construction costs is equally as important as understanding the operational costs — these expenses are typically more than constructions costs over the life of the building. Consultants provided pro forma information not only for year one, but for the first six years of operation for each concept. When comparing new concepts to the existing facilities, they found that is now annually subsidizing $475,265, with a cost recovery of approximately 37 percent. Pro formas developed for all three options presented showed a cost reduction due to efficiency and more use. They would require less subsidy, with a cost recovery of 75 – 80 percent.

merriam-mp-operationsIf the city built a new facility in Vavra Park, the consultants also came up with a proposal for what to do with the existing IBFCC site. Based on comments received from multiple public engagement activities, a concept was created showing how the space, in conjunction with the Marketplace, might be used. With a realignment of the existing Marketplace entry drive, the city could create a venue for large festivals and events. Merriam Drive traffic could be easily diverted, providing an accommodating flow between the Marketplace and an outdoor venue.


After Wednesday night’s presentation, attendees were given an opportunity to rate the three concepts and comment on the information provided. This feedback will be used to formulate recommendations and comments in the final report.

Next Steps

The steering committee will meet on Jan. 5 to review the final recommendation that will be presented to city council on Jan. 9 at 7 p.m., when council will acknowledge the final plan and recommendations. The visual and financial information provided on Jan. 9 is expected to spur a conversation about which option to pursue. These discussions will be part of the 2018 budget process scheduled to begin in March 2017.