Roeland Park council candidates on the issues: Future of Roeland Park pool

The Roeland Park pool.

Last month, we asked our readers what issues they wanted to hear the candidates running for local office address ahead of this fall’s local elections primary. Based on the input we received, we developed a five-item questionnaire for candidates running for city council in Roeland Park.

Today, we publish the candidates’ responses to item four:

 The future of the city’s aquatics facilities has been at issue since the dissolution of the joint-operating partnership between Roeland Park and the Johnson County Park and Recreation District earlier this year. What’s your vision for the city’s public pool facilities moving forward?

City Council Ward 2

Leonard Tocco

Aquatics is another part of an eco-system that give homeowners a reason to move into your city and stay. It’s important to have that balance of Parks and Recreation so that residents of all ages have a place for health and wellness.

Aquatics has been a passion of mine. It being my first job, it taught me work ethics and allowed me to meet people that I ‘m still friends with today. I also had the opportunity to work at the Roeland Park Aquatics Center. When city created the Aquatic Advisory Committee, I immediately jump at the opportunity to be a part of it. Being part of a committee that is looking to take our facility to the next stage is exciting.

Roeland Park has a lot to offer not only for our residents but for the surrounding communities. For the last 20 years, the City of Roeland Park was in a partnership with Johnson County Parks & Recreation. This last summer, the city took over as full ownership. You could see this change through out the facility by the new signage, branding of the city, the climbing wall, and all the repairs that were done. A lot of work was done through the 2018 to 2019 pool season. The city has been preparing for this by doing aquatics studies lead by Waters edge and what would be the best solution going forward for the city. We are taking this as a great opportunity to revamp and create a fun, safe, and family environment for all. At the end if the 2020 season, construction will begin on the first phase. This will bring fresh new amenities, shade structures, bringing ADA ramps, and additional lighting to increase visibility. Along with this, we have the opportunity for marketing in our neighboring cities to increase our attendance. Also, at the same time we can decrease our operational cost by bringing in positions that have been contracted out to in house.

Benjamin Dickens

We’ve seen in our citizen satisfaction surveys that Roeland Park’s aquatic center is a priority for our neighbors. Unfortunately, aspects of the pool have been neglected and are in need of repairs and updates if it’s to become a destination again.

First and foremost, we have to make sure that all of the current basic functions of the pool are ready to go on day one of the next season so our friends and neighbors can enjoy the facility. I believe that another top priority for the upcoming season must be making sure that we have fully ADA compliant grounds and adequate lighting in the evenings. Our shared public spaces, like the pool, must be safe and accessible to every member of the Roeland Park community regardless of age or ability.

Additionally, we have to find ways to bring in new amenities that our citizens want so they aren’t packing up the car to head another city’s pool. The Water’s Edge company has offered us a great concept for how to make our pool better. I have talked to many of my neighbors that have small children and a splash pad area is consistently a favorite update they’d like to have at our pool. People also want shade structures and new furniture to make their stay more comfortable. I’m happy to see that these new features are relatively inexpensive and were included as part of the phase one project for updates presented by Water’s Edge. As we grow, so should the pool with more new and family friendly features as they become financially feasible.

I would also like to see an emphasis placed on better nutritional options at the concession stand. We all deserve dietary options that we can feel good about serving our families. Simple foods like more fresh fruits and vegetables, turkey and swiss sandwiches or wraps, side salads, etc. Letting our neighbors know that our city cares about healthy bodies and minds is very important to our community’s shared growth.

As your councilperson, I will make sure that all of our city’s public spaces are ones that we can be proud of and we want to be at together.

Trisha Brauer

As a member of the Aquatics Committee, I have the privilege to work directly on this issue. The pool is one of our strongest city assets that encourages community, a healthy lifestyle, and a high quality of life.

While we appreciate our long partnership with the County, many necessary updates have been overlooked for far too long. The current facility is entirely outdated especially when compared to the newer pools in neighboring cities. The good news is, we now have full ownership and major opportunities for improvement.

The City Council and our committee have worked hard to listen to and gather input from residents to create a unified vision for those improvements. Overall, they want a pool that is safe, fun and offers amenities and events for our entire community – kids, families, and adults alike. Highest priorities include more shade structures and tables, the removal of the sand pit, comfortable seating, and improved concession offerings. When elected, I will work to ensure that the Council follows this resident-driven vision as closely as possible.

Personally, I am self-employed and would love an area with plenty of shade and a space to work remotely from my laptop. Others in our community who are self-employed and those who work remotely have also expressed the same sentiment. I also support the idea of more designated hours for adults so that neighbors can have a fun, relaxing place to gather and meet without the high energy of kids. While community pools are amenities, not profit-centers, the business woman in me sees many areas, such as concessions, that can also generate additional revenue, while meeting the mail goal of improving our quality of life.

Galen Hansen

I agree with the City’s current vision of keeping the aquatic center in operation seasonally for at least the foreseeable future and to outsource its operations for 2020 and likely through at least 2021.

There are certainly some citizens, sports teams, and other groups that would like to have the aquatic center available year round, but the cost of a new dome seems cost prohibitive. Alternatives to allow year-round operation may continue to be considered, but is not something that I believe Roeland Park will be able to do alone. It would be worth exploring whether a year-round option is possible with the input and assistance of neighboring cities with seasonal pools.

In regard to operating costs, I was pleased to see that the final outsourcing management agreement allowed for the budget to be reduced. This allowed forecast operating transfers from the general fund to be decreased by $35,000 for 2020. I support the attempts to keep operating costs reasonable as the City begins to take on more management and operational responsibilities.

The 2020 Special Infrastructure budget approved by the Council in August includes $795,000 of aquatic center improvements and updates, which is proposed to be funded through the issuance of bonds. I agree with the City’s vision of funding this sort of capital improvements with debt because it balances the cost of the improvements and updates with the benefit to future residents and users.

City Council Ward 4

Michael Rebne

Swimming has a rich history in Roeland Park. Many of my neighbors share memories back when the city pool was located in an area of town called “the caves” and Roeland Park native and Bishop Miege alumni Catherine Fox won two gold medals in the 1996 Olympics.

But beyond it playing a part in who we are as a city, having a quality swimming pool is something that residents have said that they want. In fact, focusing on parks and recreation programs and facilities is a top priority for residents based on the latest satisfaction survey. Within that, Roeland Parkers have said they want shade structures, benches, and amenities to make visiting the pool more enjoyable. Investing in the community aquatic center raises the desirability of our city among people of all ages.

As Roeland Park takes full ownership of the pool, it is important that we take time to learn from the management company hired to train staff in the transition year. When we take over full management we want to make sure that the Roeland Park Aquatic Center keeps getting better and better.

I would like to see more city-sponsored events at the aquatic center going forward. Our pool can be a wonderful gathering spot to make sure that we work to honor our resident-created strategic plan and invest in our community. For instance, the city council recently sponsored a “free-swim day” to entice more folks to the pool to purchase memberships and grow our social circles.

In the future, with careful planning and investment, we can sponsor movie nights at the pool, themed events, or use the pool to gather resident input about city plans. Now that we are the sole owners, we have more freedom to use the aquatic center in ways that best serve the community.

A.J. Cameron

While speaking with residents of various ages within Ward 4, several have shared an appreciation of their opportunity to use the aquatic facility. I believe the aquatic facility is an asset in need of attention. A major challenge with the aquatic facility, which limits its value, as a whole, is its location. This isn’t going to change, so we need to be creative in marketing the facility, internally, to city residents, and externally, to neighboring cities and organizations.

For marketing to Roeland Park residents, especially to those who take advantage of the facility, what do they like most about the facility, and what would they like to see changed, or added, to the facility?

For marketing the facility to entities outside of Roeland Park, this effort does not need to be limited to swim teams and aquatic organizations. Could the facility be marketed in conjunction with businesses within the city (restaurants, etc.), as a destination for birthday parties, graduation parties, etc., both internally and externally? Could big screen TVs, or other amenities, be added, to make the facility more attractive as a destination for Roeland Park residents, and those who reside in NE Johnson County and SE Kansas City, Kansas?

Isn’t it time to think outside the box, to maximize the value that the aquatic facility affords Roeland Park, and our residents?

Tomorrow we’ll publish the candidates’ responses to item five:

Living expenses in Johnson County have seen double digit increases in the last 4 years. Homeownership is becoming a challenge for people working in a number of professions such as teachers, firefighters, and police officers in Johnson County. Costs for individuals, including those on fixed incomes, who own their home without a mortgage have continued to rise. How would you address the need for more varied priced housing options in Johnson County at large and Roeland Park specifically? (This question was submitted by the Johnson County Health Equity Network, which focuses on housing affordability, stability and safety).