Shawnee moves forward with new community center planning though some members raise concerns about property taxes

A conceptual rendering of a new Shawnee community center.

After reviewing the initial master plan and feasibility study for a new community center, the Shawnee council committee has agreed to move forward with next steps.

The Shawnee council committee in its Tuesday meeting directed city staff and the design team, including Perkins+Will and Ballard*King & Associates, to pursue all five of the city staff’s recommendations, including:

  • Looking into program options, including for a 6- or 8-lane competitive lap pool
  • Exploring a partnership opportunity with the De Soto School District (and parochial schools as well) for the aquatic component (including heavy discussion with district leaders regarding a mill levy increase)
  • Continuing the relationship with the design team
  • Selecting a construction method and development of RFQ: The council committee agreed to explore the “Construction Management at Risk” method. This method in which the contractor is included in design, the budget drives design and construction and construction may begin before design is complete
  • Gaining public input through a ballot question: The committee agreed to shoot for April 2019 to ask voters

Councilmember Matt Zimmerman was absent for the council committee meeting.

Councilmember Lindsey Constance, echoed by other councilmembers, said she thinks the city should look into how much the Mill Levy should be increased to accommodate a 6- or 8-lane lap pool. Neil Holman, director of parks and recreation, said the mill levy involves heavy discussion with the De Soto School District.

Councilman Eric Jenkins said he had concerns about any potential property tax increase to fund the community center.

Councilmember Eric Jenkins voiced several concerns about plans for the new community center. As a representative of Ward 2, which has a median income of $53,400 (about half of Ward 3, which is $107,700), Jenkins said his residents have less disposable income to spend on a community center.

“My folks are kind of in a jam on this thing,” he said, adding that local private fitness centers were also concerned the community center would cause them to lose business.

Jenkins said he also considered the community center a “beautiful amenity,” something that makes folks happy but doesn’t fulfill the city’s unmet needs.

“Every year during the budget process, and we have the unmet needs brought to us by the city staff; we struggle to cover all of those unmet needs,” he said. “It (the community center) would be a super nice amenity for Shawnee, obviously.”

Councilmember and council committee chair Stephanie Meyer and other councilmembers said building a new community center is not an “either or” conversation because the city is also allocating funds for public infrastructure, roads and other necessities. Meyer and other councilmembers said they don’t view parks and recreation as an amenity but rather as an important part of the city that attracts businesses and residents to move here.

Jenkins said he went door to door and heard residents express concerns that they can’t afford to live here because of rising costs-of-living, and that they don’t want a community center.

Constance replied that community center survey results indicated that more than half of residents across the city indicated they would support or might support having a new community center and raising the mill levy to support it. About 66 percent of residents said they would vote in favor or might vote in favor.

Jenkins added that the community center would also need to be subsidized every year because it wouldn’t pay for itself as presented in the initial master plan.

The city would recover 90 percent of the $2.2 million in total operational costs by year 3 of the community center, according to the master plan.

Jenkins also said he wanted to ensure the community center could withstand tornadoes. He also had concerns how much the city should budget to pay for larger repairs to the center, whether unanticipated or as the structure aged.

Darin Barr with Ballard*King said the city should “write out a timeline” of repairs over the next several years to budget into the future. Based on the initial master plan, though, he recommended allocating at least $150,000 to $175,000 annually to capital improvements on the community center.

Jenkins was concerned the city would have to shift money around in the city budget or raise taxes to cover big expenses for the community center.

Jenkins also said he wanted to make sure the competitive lap pool, if added to the master plan, would conform to competitive meet sizes. Chris Kastelic with Perkins+Will said 25-meter or 25-yard is sufficient for high school swim meets.