With JCPRD agreement set to end, Roeland Park grapples with whether and how to fund year-round operation of aquatic center

Citizens getting a tour of the aquatic center in 2014. Photo via Roeland Park on Facebook.
Citizens getting a tour of the aquatic center in 2014. Photo via Roeland Park on Facebook.

By Holly Cook

With an agreement that divides the cost of the Roeland Park Aquatic Center between the city and Johnson County Park and Recreation District set to end May 2019, the Roeland Park City Council on Monday discussed possibilities for keeping the pool open year-round in the future.

Without JCPRD’s funds the city would need to absorb a deficit of at least $335,853 annually to operate the pool year-round and $114,395 for summer-only operation.

These costs do not include upgrades needed in the near future, including the replacement of the pool dome that covers the facility in winter, which could cost between $200,000 and $400,000.

Councilmembers discussed the possibility of letting residents decide the fate of the pool by including a question about the facility and its funding on the November 2017 election ballot.

Councilmember Ryan Kellerman said he would like to see the matter go to a public vote.

“This is one of those topics that affects us all,” he said.

Councilmember Teresa Kelly said she did not think the city had enough information at this time to pursue the option of putting the issue to a public vote. Mayor Joel Marquardt and councilmembers Michael Poppa, Erin Thompson and Becky Fast agreed with Kelly and said the city needed more time to determine how much funding stakeholders and pool users were willing to pitch in.

The pool is utilized by a mix of groups including Roeland Park and Johnson County residents, non-Johnson County residents, Bishop Miege’s wwim teams and the Kansas City Blazers swim team.

Councilmember Becky Fast said she viewed the pool’s future as a policy question that should be navigated by city council and not something that should be put on the ballot.

“This is what we were elected to do,” Fast said.

Thompson and Poppa agreed with Fast.

“We were elected to make the tough decisions,” Poppa said. “We shouldn’t shirk that responsibility and put it back on the voters.”

Poppa asked if the council could receive an update on pool funding discussions during an August meeting. Assistant city administrator Jennifer Jones-Lacy said she would plan to provide an update at that time. Councilmember Michael Rhoades argued that it was important for the city to determine how much they expected key user groups to pitch in before going to the stakeholders to ask for funds.

“I think we need to decide what we as a city are willing to lose to operate the pool in the summer and the winter,” Rhoades said. “When we come up with that number we know what we need to ask from these user groups.”