'Spartan approach' likely for JC Parks-Rec facility

Elevated walking track cited as problem in cost

With $5 million to spend, building a new multipurpose building is going to require a “spartan approach,” the Jefferson City Parks and Recreation Commission learned Tuesday night.

After discussing the topic for almost four hours, disappointed commission members learned it will be tough to include all the amenities they hoped to see in a new building.

In the end, the conversation seemed to coalesce around a $5.8 million project that would include three gymnasiums and an elevated walking track. It is the $770,000 track that continued to push the project beyond its financial scope.

Parks and Recreation Department staffer Paul Beck revealed a staff proposal for a $4.99 million structure that includes three gyms and covers expenses for the architectural design, site work, a lobby, restrooms, some meeting space, furniture and concession space. But it didn’t include the track or a fourth gymnasium which some supporters believe would draw tournaments to the city.

Commissioners were disappointed to learn the plan doesn’t afford seating, and one lamented the need to spend $500,000 on architects.

“Without seating, you’re shooting yourself in the foot,” Commissioner Michael Couty said.

To stretch their dollars, commissioners broached the possibility of selling naming rights at the facility, soliciting in-kind donations, enacting long-term lease agreements, or asking corporate donors to consider subsidizing the hardwood floors, scoreboards, bleacher seating, etc.

It was not a concept Commissioner Edith Vogel embraced.

“We are an organization that provides services to the taxpayers. I’m against going to the private sector to support something that is tax-driven,” she said.

Two newcomers to the commission — Brad Bates and Darryl Winegar — wanted to know more what kinds of materials might be used, and they asked to see an architectural design schematic. Winegar favored a “nicer envelope” for the exterior at the expense of more amenities, because it might save the department money over the long haul and extend the building’s life.

Riverside Park has been determined as the future site of the building.

The conversation grew peppery at times as commissioners who have worked on the proposal for years revealed their impatience.

“How many times will we revisit this?” Commissioner Gart Pollard wondered. “When are we going to pull the trigger on this project?”

Darin Barr, from Ballard King Associates, delivered a power-point presentation evaluating the project’s feasibility. The firm has assisted with about 125 other multipurpose activity buildings around the nation.

He said a survey indicated the top four most-popular amenities are: a walking track, fitness center, indoor swimming pool and group exercise room.

“That’s no surprise; those uses touch all age groups,” he added.

Even though the YMCA and other private gyms already offer fitness facilities in the region, cardio and weight rooms remain in high demand. Why? Because not all community residents can afford gym memberships, he said.

Focus groups also indicate an indoor pool is a popular amenity, but it also drives up both operational and building costs.

The survey also showed many people in Jefferson City want to see something built. About 38 percent of respondents said building it should be a “high to very high priority” and 23 percent characterized it as a “low priority.”

Barr revealed two phases of a possible build out: a $8.78 million bare-bones Phase I structure with mainly gym space and a $11.49 million future addition that includes a track, kitchen, indoor leisure pool and fitness center.

Lockwood explained that Barr’s numbers were an earlier estimate based on costs from around the nation; he noted Beck’s numbers are based on realistic costs in the Jefferson City area.

His presentation also evaluated what the commission can expect in terms of cost recovery. He estimated Phase I likely would recover 32 percent of the costs of building and operating it; Phase II would recover between 57-59 percent. He also noted those estimates are conservative.

When commissioners contemplated Barr’s simplistic Phase I structure, they were underwhelmed.

“It’s not much of a facility,” Winegar remarked.

Part of the funding difficulty stems from the fact that the economy has not been kind to the department’s sales tax revenues in recent years — they have actually declined. Staff also want to ensure adequate revenues continue to flow to the department to maintain existing facilities and an appropriate fund balance.

“We’re trying to align our aspirations with our resources. That’s what it all boils down to,” Parks and Recreation Director Bill Lockwood said.

Correction: The original version of this article incorrectly referred to Brad Bates as a newcomer to the Parks and Recreation Commission.

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