A group of Merriam residents say they are organizing a petitioning seeking to delay construction of the new community center.
The group, which is calling itself ‘Merriam Concerned Citizens,’ have shared the same concerns for the past several weeks, particularly that the proposed outdoor pool will be drastically smaller than the Merriam Aquatic Center. They met Saturday at the Antioch Library to discuss their concerns and rally support from Merriam residents for three petitions. These include:
- A petition for Merriam residents to decide whether Johnson County Library may move its Antioch branch onto the new community center site
- A petition for an independent audit of the new community center process
- A petition for voters to decide if and how the city will utilize tax increment financing (TIF) to fund a parking garage on the site
“We just need to empower ourselves and our residents to vote and let the vote decide what we are going to do next,” said Thelma Fowler, a leading member of the group.
“There was never a discussion that said, ‘If you choose these things,’ here is what you will give up,” Fowler said.
Councilmember David Neal, who presented information at the Saturday meeting, said “it was assumed” by survey participants that the new outdoor aquatics center would at least be the same size.
Recognizing that the outdoor pool is a main concern, assistant city administrator Meredith Hauck said the proposed outdoor pool is 9,550 square feet and the proposed indoor pool is 5,925 square feet, which combined is more than the 14,415 square foot pool at the Merriam Aquatic Center.
Some of the residents who spoke at the Sept. 10 council meeting said they wanted to keep the existing pool. Others said staff and councilmembers have failed to be transparent during the design process.
Suzanne Downey, a Merriam resident who is also on the city’s park board, asked the council “to slow the project down.”
“I really hope you will stop and listen,” Downey told the council. “I don’t know if anyone is really listening. I think this is a huge project to jack around with.”
Hauck said the city has “tried to make this process as transparent as possible” and that the project started in 2014 as a community conversation.
“It’s hard because we’re in year four of these conversations, and so a lot of the things that are being alleged have been part of the conversation the entire time,” Hauck said. “We have tried to provide as much information as we can on the city’s website. That’s a great place for people to go to learn about the project design and facts associated with this project.”
The Merriam council will conduct a work session Sept. 17 and make final approval of the community center and outdoor aquatics design Sept. 24. If the council approves the design, the project moves into the beginning stages of construction, including demolition of the Merriam Aquatic Center.
If the council rejects it, the staff will “have to reconsider the project and where we want to move forward in the process,” Hauck said, adding that the true impact of a delay is the additional cost to pay consultants to redesign.
As of Aug. 31, Merriam has spent about $879,000 on the $30 million project.