Merriam City Council candidates on the issues: Future of the Irene B. French Community Center

Merriam residents participated in a dot poll in April as part of a forum on options for the site of the Irene B. French Community Center.

Last month, we asked our readers what issues they wanted to hear the candidates running for local office address ahead of the August primary. Based on the (ample) input we received, we developed a five-item questionnaire for candidates running for city council in Merriam.

Today we share the candidates’ responses to question number two:

With construction of the new community center under way, the city has been seeking input from residents on the future of the Irene B. French Community Center building. What would you like to see happen with the property and why?

City Council Ward 4

Bob Pape (incumbent)

Mayor Sissom appointed a Committee to look into options for the Irene B French Community Center. They have met for several months and they have had two public input meetings to look at potential uses of the building and/or land after the new Community Center is built. I attended both public meetings and I was disappointed that more citizens were not there to express their opinion about the future of this property. I think it is imperative to know the desires of the majority of our residents. The one thing that seemed prevalent in group discussions during these meetings is that residents do not want their property taxes raised. I think that this desire needs to be considered when we look at the recommendation of the committee. There were also numerous individuals who expressed a desire to maintain at least a portion of the structure due to its historic value. The original building was built in 1911 and it has had numerous additions built on to it. Another desire was to maintain control of this property. My desire is to represent the opinions of the majority of my constituents. Unfortunately, I am concerned that I do not know for sure what that opinion is. I would encourage those in my Ward to contact me and let me know what they think. I know that the Committee plans to recommend that we keep what we can of the 1911 structure and remove the other additions. The rest of the property could become an amphitheater and/or park. The potential cost of that option could be as high as 4 million dollars. They have not addressed how to pay for this cost. I think that we need to address how this option will be funded prior to determining whether to support the committee recommendation. I would support that we put this decision to a public vote. Having said that, I do think that our history is important and within reason, we should do what we can to preserve it.

Staci Chivetta

As the appointed chair of the citizen committee charged with deciding what to do with the old community center I, along with the committee, have spent a great deal of time thinking about what should happen at 5701 Merriam Drive. After having a great dialogue with the committee, which was fairly diverse in terms of age and location of residence in the city, we surveyed the community’s thoughts through a survey and public meetings. The committee ultimately felt that saving the 1911 portion of the building, if structurally possible, and turning the remainder of the site into an outdoor event space/amphitheater, park space and different types of playgrounds, would be the best use for the property. We all felt that this could be a catalyst for downtown Merriam revitalization. As this process keeps going, hopefully the Army Corps will be able to get the appropriations to get the Turkey Creek Flood Control Project underway to help make downtown an even more viable place for revitalization. To find out more about the process and the recommendation the committee plans to make to City Council please visit this page.

Sam Matier

The city needs to solicit satisfactory public input which has not been done. The only residents attracted to meetings are those that want to save the historic buildings at any cost. Only 30 people showed up at the last 5701 Merriam Drive (old community center) meeting and that count included, consultants, committee members, city staff and city council members. True public representationi. was barely present at the meeting. The 5701 committee chaired by my Ward 4 opponent Staci Chivetta has already decided to recommend spending $4 to $5 million to save one building and provide an amphitheater and other features. What started out as a $25 million estimate for the community center has now escalated to $42 million when you add together the $30 million that received voter approval, $6.5 million for the unwanted parking garage and library and $5 million to renovate the old community center. The public is not getting what they voted for and they are not being properly involved in city hall decisions. It’s spend, spend, spend without public approval.

City Council Ward 1

Jason Silvers (incumbent)

I attended many of the public meetings for the Irene B. French Community Center building and helped the planning committee settle on a plan. During the process, it was important to me to have the building preserved in some way while making the space available to residents for daily use. We all settled on a plan which keeps the original 1911 building while adding a playground, “multi-generational playground”, and amphitheater to the site. The next step is to present the plan to the City Council for approval.

Brian Shapley

Based on the 2018 citizen survey results, and the 2019 community meetings, the overwhelming majority of Merriam residents have two similarities of opinion, on the property at 5701. First, that the City of Merriam should retain ownership of the property. And second, that their is very little interest in maintaining the buildings currently on that property.

The question still remains as to what future of this property we are willing to pay for. Given the responses I have read and personally heard, I would be supportive of taking every measure available, up to and including demolition of all but the shell of the original structure, to minimize maintenance costs, until that final decision is made. The ideas I was most drawn to included an acoustic music / theater area, all-ages playground, and permanent restroom facilities. A family oriented, community gathering place that would facilitate larger events, in conjunction with the Farmers Market area.

John Canterbury

Did not respond.

Dennis Miles

Did not respond.

Tomorrow we’ll publish the candidates’ responses to item number three:

A group of residents have complained about the process that led to the design of the aquatics portion of the city’s new community center, saying it did not meet the expectations they were given in the lead up to the vote on funding the project. What’s your take on the process that led to the design and approval of the community center project? Do you support the design of the aquatics portion?