Shawnee looks to partner with USD 232 on rec center pool, residents raise concerns about possible tax hike

A photo of a swimming facility that could be a conceptual model for the Shawnee center from the city’s Recreation Center Master Plan Study.

The city of Shawnee is taking steps toward making the vision for a new $35 million community center near 61st and Woodland a reality — but some residents are speaking out with early concerns.

Following the direction of the Shawnee council committee, city staff and architect Perkins+Will will move ahead with plans to add an eight-lane competitive pool to the design and partner with with USD 232 to fund it. The Shawnee Mission School District entered a partnership agreement a few years ago with the city of Lenexa and Johnson County Parks and Recreation District to build and operate its new aquatic center.

Staff and Perkins+Will are now soliciting construction bid proposals. Once the city receives all bids, staff will be able to determine the guaranteed maximum price for the project. The city’s deadline to finalize the maximum price is Feb. 1.

The city must also develop a ballot question it intends to ask Shawnee voters through a mail-in ballot in the spring. That question will ask voters if they want to raise the mill levy to fund the new community center.

The ballot question must be submitted to the Johnson County Election Office at least 91 days before May 21, the anticipated election date. The council plans to finalize approval of the ballot question and maximum price at its Feb. 11 meeting.

Tonya Lecuru, deputy parks and recreation director, said USD 232 Superintendent Frank Harwood is planning to talk with school board members soon regarding the partnership. A school board work session on the subject is set for Oct. 22.

Councilmember Eric Jenkins expressed concerns that the city will owe money if voters reject the ballot initiative to increase the mill levy. Lecuru said the city will owe some money in design fees and other expenses related to the initiative, but those expenses are phased out throughout the course of the project. The exact cost estimate will be determined at a later date.

Residents raise concerns about possible mill levy increase

This photo from the feasibility study shows the site as it exists today. Some grading issues would impact the layout of the community center.

Some residents said they disapproved of raising taxes for a new community center, indicating that Shawnee already has many of the amenities, or “wants,” listed in the current proposal.

“I don’t think city is in a position to be spending the kind of money you’re talking about,” said Ray Erlichman, adding that he thinks raising taxes will ultimately hurt Shawnee residents on fixed or lower incomes.

Rod Houck, another Shawnee resident, said he thinks people move to this city for its outdoor amenities, such as walking trails and outdoor fields and courts.

“I question, why do we really need an indoor facility?” Houck said.

Ben Terrill, a Shawnee resident who ran for council a few years ago, said he is against raising taxes for the project.

“The way things are financed around here by continuous tax increases is not a good idea,” Terrill said. “I don’t believe it’s reasonable or responsible for a public body, citizen government, to continuously raise taxes because they like an idea.”

After hearing comments from the public, councilmember Mickey Sandifer said he thinks the community center project belongs to the people, so he shouldn’t decide the issues on which residents can or cannot vote.

“There’s been a lot of response of people wanting a community center of this sort; they have to go to other cities to get these type of amenities that they’re looking for, where they can use it year-round,” Sandifer said. “We’re not the ones raising the taxes and deciding this. It’s the public…And when people are coming up telling us that we should not give the people of this city the right to make that choice, I don’t know how you can justify that, because the city belongs to the people.”