After a nearly two-year, pandemic-induced pause, Prairie Village is restarting conversations about the idea of developing a community center near Harmon Park.
It comes as the city council is discussing how to spend nearly $3.5 million in federal COVID-19 relief funding — half of which has been sitting in Prairie Village’s bank account since last summer.
Cities are able to use the funding in four main ways including infrastructure investment, supporting COVID-19 mitigation efforts and paying frontline workers, city Finance Director Nickie Lee said at a special city council work session this past Saturday.
One potential use of pandemic relief funds is to “replace lost public sector revenue,” which Lee said can be broadly defined.
“Really what this point is saying is that it wants cities to give the money out in the community, you know, don’t just take these funds and put it in a savings account or pay down debt,” Lee said. “The intent would be that these funds would be spent on something that the community would feel, rather than just kind of replacing the city’s coffers.”
The city must declare its obligation to allocate the funds by 2024, and the $3.5 million must be spent by 2026, Lee said.
‘Never will be about saving the Y’
Prairie Village decided against pursuing a community center at Harmon Park after a consultant presented it with a concept back 2013 on account of cost. But the city council reopened conversations on the topic in 2019.
Although a survey found broad resident support for the project in early 2020, the city decided to put a pause on the community center conversation when COVID-19 hit.
John Mikos, president and chief executive office of YMCA of Greater Kansas City, told the city council on Saturday that the Y’s Paul Henson location in Prairie Village near Harmon Park has been operating in a deficit for the last 18 months.
Coupled with infrastructure issues at the more than 55-year-old facility, Mikos said the Prairie Village YMCA is no longer sustainable.
Mikos said YMCA is at a point where short-term solutions and decisions need to be made in order to maintain its presence in Prairie Village.
Councilmember Cole Robinson asked Mikos why the Prairie Village facility didn’t receive the same amount of investment as YMCA facilities in other communities, like on the Missouri side.
Mikos said investments at some other facilities in the Kansas City area are the result of large donations from people who specified where the funds could be used. Other investments were the result of partnerships with cities.
Robinson said he feels the short-term timeline is unrealistic.
While he said he appreciated the desire to work with a long-standing community organization, Robinson said, “a lot could’ve been done” to ensure the facility’s place in Prairie Village.
“If there was a gaping need in our community for [YMCA] to fill and serve, that would’ve been expressed through investment in our community, it would’ve been expressed in expansion of their activity,” Robinson said.
Mayor Eric Mikkelson, who has been a strong proponent of the community center idea, prefaced Saturday’s conversation by pointing out the land YMCA sits on is attractive to the city.
It’s right next to the current civic center which features not only city hall and the police department, but also sits adjacent to Harmon Park and the city pool complex.
Mikkelson said while he’s not sure if Robinson was suggesting this, the city would likely lose the opportunity to acquire that land if it were to disengage from YMCA entirely. That’s a substantial risk, he said.
“It’s never been and never will be about saving the Y, that’s not our city mission,” Mikkelson said. “But if there are opportunities that benefit the city of Prairie Village in a cost effective way to deliver amenities and services that the residents want, presented by these other partners out there, I think we want to make sure we fully vet those.”
City Administrator Wes Jordan said the YMCA is not the only other entity that needs answers from the city on this project.
Jordan said Johnson County Library, which previously considered relocating the Corinth Library branch to be near the municipal center, is also wondering what the city plans to do — even though it’s still in the beginning stages of the planning process.
City staff also provided the city council with several ideas about how to spend the $3.5 million including the purchase of a new phone system as well as city hall and pool improvements.
There is also the possibility of partnering with the county on a sort of human resources fund that could address housing, workforce assistance and child care subsidies, Jordan said.
The pool improvements, totaling $1 million, include pipe leaks at the lap pool, and would not be completed until fall 2022 at the earliest.
Public Works Director Keith Bredehoeft told the city council that the pool repairs have been put on hold because if a new community center and library are built nearby, that could change the future of the pool complex’s footprint.
Still, several councilmembers expressed support to prioritize pool and city hall improvements, and see how those efforts could free up funds in other areas. This, in turn, would allow the city council to explore other potential projects such as the community center idea.
The city council ultimately decided to table the discussion as Jordan said the three-hour conversation provided him with enough insight in terms of council direction.
There will be future discussions in city council meetings, likely with more firm recommendations from city staff, about how to spend the $3.5 million.