Frequently Asked Questions
Recreational Facilities FAQ(Updated 5/19/17)
What is all this I hear about our recreational facilities?
For the past three years, the City of Merriam has been studying how we can best offer recreation amenities in our community today and in the future. The cost of maintenance and repairs of our current facilities – the Irene B. French Community Center and Merriam Aquatic Center – are becoming unsustainable. At the recommendation of a citizen Steering Committee and the outcome of several studies and community surveys, the City Council is currently considering two options –significant renovations to the current facilities or building a new community center.
What’s wrong with the current facilities?
The primary issue we are facing is the age of our current facilities. The newest section of Irene B. French Community Center is 66 years old and the oldest is 106 years old. The Merriam Aquatic Center is more than 30 years old. While both of these facilities have served our community well over the years, the constant, expensive, and unbudgeted repairs to their systems and structures continue to increase. Additionally, neither facility meets Federal ADA requirements or current life-safety or building code requirements. Because of the extensive nature of the repairs required, if we fix one issue, we are required to fix a number of others. This makes it nearly impossible to do minor renovations and repairs, which only compounds the problems we are having and makes it more challenging to provide programs that meet the needs of all of our residents.
What are the specific issues with each of the facilities?
- HVAC and Air Handler System – inability to heat and cool the building well
- Foundation – Separation of floors from walls, settling throughout the building
- Plumbing – Issues throughout the building and inability to access pipes due to building design
- ADA Accessibility – No access for people with disabilities to primary places in the building, including the Jenks Gym, Locker Rooms, and Restrooms.
- Flooding – Constant failure of sump pumps on the lower level compounded by the building’s location in a flood plain
- Water Damage – Odor and property damage cause by standing water from flooding
- Sewage System – Brittle, breaking pipes and constant odor
- Building design – The building was originally a school and not designed for use as a community center. We are unable to provide the programs residents want in the current configuration of the building.
- ADA Accessibility – Current entry point and locker rooms aren’t accessible for people with disabilities
- Leaking Pool Basin – In 2016, the pool lost 900,000 gallons of water. That’s 600,000 more than would be caused by normal evaporation and discharge.
- Pump House – The pumps and filters need constant repair and upgrades.
Unfortunately, these are just the issues we know about today. Many of the system and foundation failures that are occurring are located in areas of the facilities that are not easily accessed, and therefore cannot be regularly monitored and proactively addressed.
You can also check out pictures of these issues and learn more by watching a video at www.merriam.org/parks.
Can’t we update our current facilities?
Renovating our current facilities is an option and is actually where the conversation about the future of our recreation facilities began. Continuing on our current path of doing band-aid fixes to the facilities is not a sustainable option so renovation was one path considered by the Steering Committee. In 2014, Larkin Aquatics did a comprehensive study of the aquatic center, including mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and ADA requirements. At the same time, the City hired Susan Richards Johnson and Associates to complete a similar comprehensive analysis of the community center. That analysis provided detailed solutions that address the continued use of the existing facility. The total estimated cost to renovate both facilities is $16-20 million: $12-15 million for the IBFCC plus an additional $4 million for the pool, including replacing the basin. View copies of the studies.
So why are we talking about new facilities?
When the results of the renovation studies revealed that the updates to the facilities would cost $16-20 million, the City decided to step back and evaluate what recreation amenities residents actually wanted in our community. The City Council appointed a steering committee of Merriam residents to work on this project and make a recommendation to City Council. With the help of a consulting group, the committee conducted a series of studies, surveys, and public input sessions to answer the question “How can we best offer recreation amenities in Merriam today and tomorrow?” The Steering Committee ultimately concluded that renovating the current facilities would not provide the amenities and programs the residents were requesting, and recommended building a new facility to the City Council. The Steering Committee also studied what programs and features would be included in a new community center, including working with the consulting team and City staff to develop a business plan and pro-forma. The “Build New” option the City Council is currently considering is the facility recommended by the Steering Committee, which has an estimated capital investment of $25-30 million.
How would the City pay for a new facility?
The Build New option would be paid for through the issuance of bonds, and City staff has recommended to the City Council to consider using a ¼-cent sales tax to pay for the debt service on the bonds. The City is exploring a sales tax instead of a property tax increase because in addition to our strong sales tax base, Merriam is unique because for every dollar of sales tax we collect, $0.82 comes from non-residents who shop in our town. For example, this would mean if the annual debt service payment was $2,000,000, Merriam residents would only pay $360,000 (or about $32 per resident per year). Merriam’s sales tax rate is currently 9.225% and the addition of a ¼-cent sales tax rate would make our rate 9.480%, which is still lower than many of our neighboring communities.
A public vote would be required to issue bonds and increase the sales tax rate.
Would membership rates for the community center and pool increase if a new facility is built?The new community center contemplated as part of the Build New option would offer considerably more amenities than our current community center and aquatic center, including: an indoor pool with lap lanes and leisure pool; an outdoor pool with spray pad, lap lanes, and leisure pool; party room; indoor walking track; full size gym; fitness center and aerobic room; art gallery and senior lounge; classrooms and meeting space; and child care.
As part of the study, a business plan and pro-forma were completed for the Build New option and the following initial rate structure was proposed:
Family Membership Proposed Rates
|Current Membership Rate at IBFCC + MAC||$465||$38.75|
|Membership Rate at New Facility||$540||$45.00|
Individual Membership Proposed Rates
|Current Membership Rate at IBFCC + MAC||$370||$30.83|
|Membership Rate at New Facility||$360||$30.00|
A full rate structure for a new community center still needs to be developed. It is a priority for the City to keep this facility affordable and accessible for all members of our community, and any rate structure would need to be approved by the City Council before being implemented.
What would happen to the Irene B. French Community Center if a new community center is built?
The location of the IBFCC is an important asset to our community, not just because of its historical significance, but also because of its key location in downtown Merriam. If a new community center is built, the City plans to go through a process with significant community input to identify the best use for the current site and determine how to honor its history while making it an asset for future generations as well.
Has there been any consideration of consolidating Merriam's parks and recreation services with those of surrounding communities?
Merriam is a community that was built on parks and recreation – from Merriam Park which drew more than 20,000 visitors per day in the early 1900s to the creation of our City Parks and Recreation department more than 30 years ago. Citizen surveys consistently tell us that the parks and recreation amenities in our community are a key reason that people choose to call Merriam home, and surveys that were conducted as part of this study reinforced that recreation facilities are a priority – 91% said it was important for Merriam to continue supporting a community Center and 88% said it was important for Merriam to continue to support a pool.
The City has, however, had conversations with our neighboring communities about opportunities to partner and the feedback has been consistent – while Merriam residents are welcome to join nearby community centers at the non-resident rate, no other facility has the capacity to accommodate any type of consolidation of services.
Based on these factors, the City Council has made it clear that the City will continue to support our Parks and Recreation Department and the programs and facilities it operates.
Will there be a public vote?
A public vote is required by law to issue bonds and increase the sales tax rate. If the Council decides to move forward with this issue, staff has proposed utilizing a mail-in ballot to allow every registered voter in Merriam an easy option for casting their vote. The City Council is still evaluating this issue and no decision on how to move forward has been made yet.
Where are we now in the process?
The City Council is evaluating the two options currently on the table – renovate our current facilities or build new facilities. In order to get additional public feedback on these options, City staff and Steering Committee members are attending a variety of public meetings and events with information about the options to answer questions and seek input from the community.
Where can I get more information about this issue?