With groundbreaking near, Merriam works to assuage resident concerns about community center design while sticking to schedule

A rendering showing the proposed exterior design of the community center.

A group of Merriam residents on Monday again voiced concerns about the design of the new $36.6 million community center, with some saying the new outdoor aquatics will be too small and complaining that the the design process has been vague and unclear.

Melinda Duckworth, a Merriam resident who joined the community center design committee later than other members, said she thinks the process has been flawed and lacked transparency and structure. She said the Merriam city staff is leading the council in “one specific direction” and has not left the process open for conversation.

Additionally, Duckworth said the “horseshoe” shape of the community center is different from the rectangular shape in the master plan. She also cited concerns with “incorrect measurements” of Merriam’s current pool and neighboring pools — Merriam listed some pool measurements in yards instead of meters.

“I would really encourage you guys to slow it down and to ask questions,” Duckworth told the council at its Monday meeting.

Suzanne Downey, a Merriam resident who sits on the park board, also asked the council to “slow the process down,” adding that the new outdoor pool and the current Merriam Aquatic Center are “not comparable at all.”

“You can say we’ve got more water; it’s not the same,” Downey told the council. “I’m frustrated that aquatic sports is being killed in this pool.”

Downey was concerned the dimensions for the new outdoor pool’s diving well and lap lanes will be too small for competitive aquatic sports.

“I’m just sad to see this leave our city; it’s not right, it’s not necessary. This is not what we were told,” Downey said.

After residents complained that city staff were failing to be transparent with the council on the design process, the staff discussed aligning expectations with the council regarding aquatics, the floor plan and other project details.

Chris Engel, city administrator, told councilmembers during the Monday work session that the staff needs to understand how much the council wants to be involved in the design process.

“I think it’s important the council can understand: Council can change anything that they want to change, but in reality and in respect for the timeline and for the work that the design team and all the folks have already done, it’s somewhat limited if we want to stay on track,” Engel said.

Michelle Kaiser, a CBC Real Estate Group staff member who represents Merriam on the construction project, said the community center site space is limited, so any changes to the floor plan will take away space from another part of the facility.

“Every decision that’s made at this point has a rolling effect on other pieces,” Kaiser said. “It doesn’t mean it can’t be done. And if we’re going to make a change, now is the time to do it because we haven’t put anything in the ground yet.”

Councilmember David Neal echoed residents’ concerns and reiterated his own from past council work sessions, adding that he thinks the design committee has been pressured to make decisions quickly.

Other councilmembers cautioned against slowing down the design process because it could delay the timeline of the project and end up costing more money.

Mayor Ken Sissom said he wishes dissatisfied residents who wanted a 50-meter pool would have been involved from the beginning of the design process two years ago.

“We started with these concepts, and now we’re dealing with design, trying to make these concepts come to life,” Sissom said, adding that the community center was designed to include as many desired amenities as possible with limited space.