Roeland Park approves money to find out if caves at old pool site can be used for new development

The schematic of a possible development at the caves was drawn by Mayor Joel Marquardt.

The idea of developing the old Roeland Park pool site and the limestone caves that adjoin the property took a step forward Monday night when the city council agreed to authorize money to find out what might be possible.

The idea for a possible retail and entertainment complex with adjacent parking was first proposed by Mayor Joel Marquardt last November. Now, the council has agreed to spend up to $100,000 to find out just what might be possible for a development at the site. The money will not come from the city’s general fund, but rather money from a special Tax Increment Financing district that has narrow uses. The preliminary work at the caves qualifies for use of the TIF which runs out in 2018.

The money likely will be used in part to clear the site so a cave engineer can get enough access to determine if the caves are structurally sound to support development or if they would need to be filled in. Marquardt said Monday he was concerned that trees have grown deep roots that are breaking off chunks of stone.

When the old pool closed, dirt was pushed up in front of the cave entrances to block access, he said. Some of that may need to be opened so a structural study can be completed by a cave engineer. It is not known how much fill might have been pushed into the caves themselves. “Without clearing out the caves, we don’t know what we have anymore,” Marquardt said.

The old Roeland Park pool was at the site until the 1990s when it was filled in. The caves, which are believed to have been created by limestone mining a century ago, housed the showers and locker rooms for the pool.

The mayor and three council members have been working as an ad hoc committee on moving the idea for a new development at the site forward. They have had access to previous studies, but those don’t look at physical features, Marquardt said, and don’t say anything about the cave structure or if they can be used. Another question is whether the cave ceilings can support development on top.

“I think this is an opportunity for the city to do something really cool that sets our city apart,” said Councilor Erin Thompson. “I fully agree,” said Councilor Sheri McNeil, thanking the mayor for having “a vision for something besides another strip mall.”