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 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?
City Council Ward 4
Bob Pape (incumbent)
I believe that the initial design process of appointing a committee comprised of interested citizens was good. I think careful consideration was given to select members with varying interest and backgrounds. I think that utilization of an outside party to guide discussions and the use of city staff as a resource was good as well. The inclusion of two Council members as non-voting members was a good idea. From all intents and purposes, it appeared that this group would be able to produce a quality recommendation. Unfortunately I concur that the recommendation that was proposed to City Council was not what I envisioned when I voted for the new Community center and Aquatic center. I applaud the efforts of the Committee to provide the best Community center and Aquatic center that they could within the budget that was allocated. It is my belief that we did not request enough funding to provide the Community center and Aquatic center that we and the public believed we would be building. We were a couple million dollars short in our initial request. The committee did the best they could within the constraints of the $32 million allocated. I heard from several members that they wanted additional changes to the proposal, but were told that there was not enough money to add their request. They had to settle with the design that they believed provided the best bang for the buck. Several aquatic features such as the lazy river and slides were put inside the Community center so that they could be utilized year-round. Many in the community believed that these features would be outside as well. They showed up at numerous Council meetings to share their views and eventually gathered numerous signatures on petitions to try and stop us from going forward with the current design. We on the City Council heard their pleas and six of us voted to spend an additional $1.6 million to increase the size of the outside pool. Unfortunately it did not appease a significant number of our constituents. As a result I and two other Council members voted to pause the project and look at additional options. We failed in our attempt to do so in a 5 to 3 vote and the project moved forward. I do believe that the Community center will be excellent and the outside pool will still be nice.
As a designer I feel that our industry has become too good at rendering and has become complacent in explaining that buildings and site plans will not always look exactly like they are rendered. It is my understanding that the drawings that supplemented the mail in ballot initiative for the community center project were not labeled as conceptual and let everyone believe that what they saw in there would be what they got and that simply isn’t always true with the design process. The community center will be a great asset for the community, but the design process wasn’t transparent enough considering it is being funded by an increased tax on Merriam residents. Many in the community felt that their voice wasn’t heard and we must ensure that doesn’t happen with any future community projects.
I have never been a competitive swimmer so I knew nothing about the sizing requirements of a competitive swim meet. I have been studying the requirements of a regulation competition pool to learn more and understand the design better. From my understanding – all of the requirements are going to be met in the new outdoor pool design, it might not have been originally designed that way, but I believe the design team has redesigned it to the best of their ability to satisfy the needs of the swim team and concerns of residents. I still fully support the project and think that it will be an amazing asset to our community and am looking forward to enjoying all of it’s amenities starting next year.
The entire design and approval process for the aquatics portion was flawed from the very beginning. Engineering reports were falsified by Merriam city staff to convince the city council and public that it was not economically reasonable to keep the nicest municipal pool in Johnson County. No one but the mayor and council members Nancy Hupp and Christine Hands supported the aquatics portion of the city’s new community center. Hupp and Hands initially voted for the smallest pool possible but were outvoted. After city council approved the community center, I wrote three petitions and our team of volunteers went out in the summer heat and single digit winter temperatures gathering 900 residents signatures. Residents said they did not support the aquatics center design, did not want to give land to the county library and did want to vote before the city used TIF funds. The mayor refused to accept the wishes of 900 residents and declared the petitions invalid. Protesting residents did not have the funding to go to court against the unlimited legal resources of the city.
City Council Ward 1
Jason Silvers (incumbent)
Though I attended an early public meeting regarding the new community center, I was not involved in any of the decision making. In fact, I was unaware of the controversy with the aquatic center until after being appointed as Councilmember and I began walking the neighborhoods to meet my constituents. I love that Merriam has the ability and means to build a new community center for its residents, but time after time I have heard complaints about the size of the pool. In my opinion, the public’s needs were not fully considered when selecting a final design for the aquatic center. I have spoken to many residents whose swim teams practiced and competed at the Merriam pool and are saddened now that they can’t share that experience with their children. I think the city of Merriam missed the mark on aspects of this project.
Did not respond
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Tomorrow we’ll publish the candidates’ responses to item number four:
What’s the biggest challenge facing the city of Merriam today, and how would you hope to address it as a member of the city council?