The Merriam Community Center has a long history and with age come some maintenance problems. The community center building dates to 1911, opened as the first school in Merriam.
It was purchased by the city, renovated and re-opened in 1990 as the community center – now the Irene B. French Community Center – using not only the original 1911 building, but also additions that were made in the 1930s and the 1950s.
Monday night the Merriam City Council agreed to fund a study, estimated to cost $120,000, to find out exactly what it might be facing over the next 20 years in maintenance costs and repairs to keep the center open and functioning.
The building was not only the first school in Merriam, it also was the first home to Johnson County Community College. The 1911 building housed elementary and high school students until 1922 when what is now SM North opened. It continued as an elementary school until 1969. The two additions were put on while it was an elementary, including the gym and stage in the 1930s. After JCCC, the building was sold to Kansas City Christian School and then to the city.
Merriam Parks and Recreation Director Anna Slocum said the city has made a number of repairs in recent years with the average cost upward of $50,000 each time. Repairs to water lines, the gym floor, the HVAC system and sewer lines are among the problems the center has encountered recently because of the age of the building.
Drainage has been another issue. Meeting rooms are in a below-grade section of the 1950s addition and 12 sump pumps move water away from the exterior. The city has hired the firm of Susan Richards Johnson & Associates to identify pending repairs and structural issues so the city can make decisions about the next 20 years for the center. The company was chosen because of its expertise in historic preservation and renovation.
“Citizens like the community center and the historic aspect, but we need to know we are making good decisions,” said Councilor Nancy Hupp. “(We need to) know just what we are facing.”