Prairie Village will not actively pursue community center and natatorium

Three years of planning work and $36,000 of city taxpayer money spent in consulting fees ended with a thud Monday as the Prairie Village City Council voted unanimously not to actively pursue a proposal for a new community center and natatorium on the municipal grounds.

A feasibility study by ThreeSixty Architecture delivered to the city in December proposed a $45 million facility that would have included a 1,500 seat competitive swimming center as well as community exercise and meeting spaces. When work on the feasibility study began, two potential partners for the project — the Shawnee Mission School District and Johnson County Parks and Recreation — each chipped in an additional $10,000 to pay for the study, which cost $56,000 total.

The thought was that the district and county would contribute significant funds for construction and operation of such a facility. But as the proposal began to take shape, councilors said Monday, it became clear those partners were not prepared to assume enough financial responsibility for the project to move forward.

Without significant financial contributions from such partners, the prospect of taking on a project of such magnitude proved too much for a city already struggling to keep up with roads and parks maintenance.

“We were hearing, ‘We’re ready, we’ll contribute’ from our partners,” said Councilor Ruth Hopkins. “And when it came time to get serious, they weren’t ready. They were offering shiny pennies and that was all. It wasn’t enough.”

Councilor David Belz, who headed the committee that managed the planning work, emphasized that talks about a community center could reopen if partners approached the city in the future with serious interest in making major financial contributions.

But Councilor Laura Wassmer, who heads the city’s Parks and Recreation committee, was equally emphatic that, for all intents and purposes, the community center idea is dead.

“The public needs to hear a clear message that this is not moving forward,” she said.