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 To achieve compliance in these areas, many of the needed updates trigger a cascade of repairs to other outdated systems, which increases costs and makes updates more difficult and expensive.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 www.merriam.org as it becomes available. Also, this blog is dedicated to the project and is updated weekly with new posts.