Merriam recreational facilities report recommends indoor track and pool would benefit greatest number of residents

The original community center building dates to 1911 and was the first school in Merriam.
The original community center building dates to 1911 and was the first school in Merriam.

A new report based on a random survey of 522 Merriam residents reveals the city should focus on providing an indoor track and indoor swimming pool as it considers upgrading its aging recreational facilities.

The needs assessment was conducted by the ETC Institute and is intended to help city officials as they consider the future of the Merriam Aquatic Center and the Irene B. French Community Center.

“Focusing on an indoor walking and jogging track within the district would provide the greatest benefit for the largest number of residents,” the report concluded.

“Cardiovascular and fitness equipment areas and an indoor leisure swimming pool were both among the most needed amenities and also had some of the highest unmet need,” it added.

Merriam officials have been conducting a community review of both facilities since last summer. The review was made necessary after an assessment by a consultant found both had serious structural problems.

The building housing the community center is a former school dating to 1911. The gym was added in 1938 and further additions were made in 1951 and 1989.

The building, which has a basement below the water table, has 19 sump pumps and water damage is an ongoing issue. The building also has ADA compliance deficiencies and lacks a sprinkler system and adequate emergency lighting.

The pool also has ADA problems and the concrete needs regular repair. It also has outdated dressing rooms and much of the mechanical equipment has reached the end of its useful life.

While the city has conducted community meetings and surveys on what residents want for the facilities, the needs assessment prepared by ETC was based on a random sample of households and is considered to accurately reflect community sentiment.

It found 35 percent of households had visited the Aquatic Center during the past two summers, 24 percent on a daily or few times a week basis.

When asked for the top three features they would like if the city built a new aquatic center: 48 percent said lazy river; 46 percent said a zero depth entry pool, and 34 percent said water slides.

As for the Irene B. French Community Center, 40 percent of the households surveyed had visited the past year, 13 percent either daily or a few times a week. The greatest need was identified by 66 percent was as an indoor walking or jogging track, and 63 percent said cardiovascular and fitness equipment.

The report listed five facilities as priorities for investment: (1) indoor track (2) cardiovascular and fitness equipment (3) indoor leisure pool (4) indoor lap pool (5) weightlifting exercise area.

When asked whether they agree the city needs a new community recreation center, 56 percent of the respondents agreed, 34 percent were neutral and 11 percent disagreed.

As for how to repay the bonds required to build a new facility, 25 percent of the respondents supported a sales tax increase; 6 percent said a property tax increase; 24 percent a blend of both taxes, and 21 percent wanted no tax increase.

A large majority, 74 percent, said the operation of a new or renovated recreation center should be covered by user fees paid by patrons.