What’s good for Wamego? More educational and recreational opportunities.
Two groups approached the Wamego City Commission at Tuesday night’s meeting to discuss improvements to the public library and the pool facility.
These potentially million or more dollar projects could have great benefits to the city and the surrounding area.
The city has already been working with the Library Board on the potential for expanding the facility. According to Peter Vopata, head librarian, the plan is to add on to the back of the library and turn that into the children’s section. More space could be made in the current facility by removing the walk-in safe. That project would be about $1 million.
“We met several times with the board and consultant to evaluate process and potential expansion, remodel or a combination to accommodate future growth,” said City Manager Merl Page.
“I was not able to attend the last work session,” said Eric Benson, head of the library board. “My understanding is that the plans were reviewed and we’re here tonight to discuss the possible funding.”
Page suggested a possible public-private funding possibility, which the commission favored.
“As you gentlemen know, we’ve expressed at certain times, with projects like this, we are faced with a number of needs, not just the library,” said Commissioner Bill Ditto. “One thing we probably would favor would be a public-private partnership. Funds are limited as far as taking on that project alone by the city.”
Ditto also noted that the county sales tax has an upcoming sunset clause.
“And the other issue is we are adverse to raising the ad valorem property taxes to any great extent,” Ditto continued. “We want to hold the line as close as we can on that. What would be the possibility of private donations toward funding part of the project?”
“Peter and I have talked about a fundraising campaign,” Benson responded. “That’s part of Peter’s education, how to start a fundraising campaign, how to get people in alignment, etc. But what balance are we shooting for between the city and us?”
Benson added the library also has some money saved for capital improvement and that a partnership is fair. “In addition to the board, we have Friends of the Library,” he said. “We can work together and we have some options in place to help us.”
After the library presentation, the commission also heard from a committee interested in expanding the current swimming pool into an “Aquatic Complex”.
“We were approached about a month-and-a-half ago about this,” said Page. “It’s been a discussion for about seven to 10 years. Where are we in relation to facilities improvement to the pool. Believe it or not, it was built in 1985, it’s been 30 years.”
The committee, led by Jeff Wick, also consists of Jan Eichman, Rachel Fath, Steve Land and Theresa Pettay.
“We came together to look at and research other communities,” Wick told the commission. “Also to see what the needs are. If it is possible to upgrade the pool. Is the shell in good enough shape to continue to use that facility as well as the water park facility.”
The concept is a water park “constructed with zero entry access, slides and a lazy river located to the south of the existing swimming pool complex.” It would include upgrades to the existing pool; a remodel or replacement of the existing bathhouse/concession area; an indoor aquatic center with a pool for exercise, therapy and water aerobics.
Wick outlined some of the benefits to the community: top on the list was to enhance the quality of life. But economics are also involved.
“These types of complexes are able to attract and draw larger crowds and people tend to come from a further distance and entice them to stay longer,” he said. “It also keeps local dollars local. Keeping people in town will benefit our community.” He noted that now people travel to Manhattan or Rossville to take advantage of their water complexes.
There is also a health benefit to the community including year-long exercise opportunities for all age groups along with physical therapy and rehab. This could interest the Wamego Health Center in becoming part of the project.
Wick showed several examples of facilities in other areas including Council Grove, Phillipsburg and Fort Scott. Those projects were all in the $2.5 to $2.8 million range.
As in the library expansion, the discussion quickly turned to funding, especially the concept of private-public opportunities.
“We would like some feedback from the city,” Wick said. “Do we need to look through the Community Foundation. Raise funds? Find grants? Our committee could research that.”
“Since there is not a plan out there, it’s pretty hard to estimate the cost,” Ditto noted. “Are you looking for a feasibility study?”
Wick said the group was looking for the city to authorize moving forward with hiring an engineering firm for a study and needs assessment.
As there was a “full house”, the discussion was opened to the attendees for input.
Vopata came up with combining the efforts.
“It sounds to me like we have two facilities focused on the same thing, quality of life,” he said. “We have the same struggles, the community is expanding but we’re standing still on what we’re providing. I don’t know if we can combine this? Abilene had the same issue in the past years, they combined. Our consultant who met was involved in that project. We can find out from him how they managed.”
“Representing the disability community, both facilities are extremely important to us,” said Audrey Schremmer, executive director, Three Rivers Independent Living. “The library is important to those who are home schooled and the pool is also a tremendous opportunity. I’m right with Peter, I don’t want a conflict between swimming and reading.”
“This was an exciting night to come,” noted Megan Umscheid, executive director of the Wamego Chamber of Commerce. “We have the library and swimming pool possibilities on the table. I reference the Vision Wamego study from a couple of years ago. Quality of life and education was cited several times. I’d like to see how we could further both along. The Chamber is excited to be involved in some way.”
“There are a couple of different issues,” Ditto said. “One is the public and private part of financing and fund raising. The other is a feasibility study to see what kind of financial responsibility we’d have in the pool project. The library project is further along. I think maybe we approve the concept of moving ahead tonight and get a study on the pool project, then agree to look at how do we support both – publically and privately.”
Page again brought up the sunset clause on the sales tax that, if it goes off, will be a “game changer.”
The commission agreed on a 4-0 vote to have the city develop the scope of the project and began looking for a consultant. Commissioner Bob Morse was absent.
Will chickens come home to roost in Wamego? Maybe.
“The city has been approached with a request to modify our animal regulations to allow laying hens in Wamego,” said Page. “Other communities have allowed it and it runs the gamut from wide open to limits of four.”
The commissioners initially came down on both sides.
Mayor Clifford Baughman was opposed.
“I don’t want to be a naysayer,” he said. “But there are several things livestock brings to the table with it and I don’t think your right to have a chicken should weigh any heavier than the right of your neighbor not to smell it. I don’t have a good feeling about it. One of the reasons eggs are high right now is bird flu took out all the chickens. We don’t need that. We don’t need other rodents that feast on chickens and eggs – snakes, rats, foxes. That’s just my two cents.”
Commissioner Tom Beem was on the other side.
“We have a sheet of Council Grove’s rules and they seem to be pretty good,” he said. “No more than four pet chickens. In my eyes, a person is allowed two rabbits in a cage, two dogs. This is more like a school project. Roosters aren’t allowed and we won’t have a chicken farm on Main Street.”
The commissioners decided to take it under advisement and tabled the issue until the next meeting when the staff will come up with an ordinance along the lines of Council Grove’s for them to consider.