Residents at hearing back M-I rec center

INDEPENDENCE -- A centrally located recreation complex would make Monmouth and Independence more livable communities and give youth a positive way to spend their free time.

POSSIBLE HEAD: Residents support rec center idea

INDEPENDENCE -- A centrally located recreation complex would make Monmouth and Independence more livable communities and give youth a positive way to spend their free time.

That was the overwhelming sentiment expressed by residents at a public hearing hosted by Polk County Commissioners last week regarding the formation of a special district to facilitate such a project.

"You might look at this as one more layer of government," said Bob Archer, a former Independence councilor. "But I look at it as the citizenry (of the towns) looking at things together that would help us ... instead of individually.

About 35 people attended the May 14 meeting, the first of two on the matter; the second will be at 7 o'clock tonight (Wednesday, May 21) at Volunteer Hall in Monmouth.

Proponents, some of them representing the local YMCA, want to form the district to get the state authority needed to place a general obligation bond to erect a center before voters -- possibly this fall.

The group seeks to build a 51,000-square-foot complex with a pool, basketball court and other amenities on a parcel off the S-curves along Monmouth Street. The cost of the project could range from $5 million to $7 million.

Ultimately, the YMCA or a similar organization would manage the facility and its programs.

Monmouth and Independence have conceptually backed the district. County commissioners are now weighing public testimony before deciding whether to form the district.

Commissioner Mike Propes said efforts to erect a recreation building in the area have been ongoing for the last 15 years.

"I really think it's time to answer that question," he said. "What I think isn't as important as what you say ... and that's if you want a district, and then want to pay for" the center.

Most who spoke last week did so in favor of the district because it would make the two communities more "full-service," give families options for recreation and keep kids occupied and out of trouble.

Robert Marshall, a Central High student and YMCA volunteer, said he wants to see the project happen because there were few places for young people to hang out beyond the movie theater, pool and skate park.

Joost VanderHave said he believed the commissioners should form the district in order to let residents "decide whether a facility is something they want or not."

Some who voiced support at the hearing included representatives from institutions pursuing projects that could otherwise have been viewed as potential conflicts.

Donn Wahl of the Gate Youth Association said the facility would compliment the youth center his organization is attempting to build on Monmouth Street.

Central School District leaders have written a letter on behalf of the recreation center, despite the fact that the district will place a $44 million to $49 million construction bond before voters in November to build a new high school.

"Our bond measure, I anticipate, will have a 0 percent tax increase," Superintendent Joseph Hunter said.

Carolyn Baker was the only attendee to express concern about the district.

"I think we need to go slower on this, we need to talk about getting more input and need to talk about the cost," she said.

Supporters completed a rough first-year cost projection, based on the operating budget of a YMCA center in Sherwood, a city nearly the size of Monmouth and Independence combined.

The center would take in more than $1.67 million from memberships and contributions; expenses would run $1.63 million, the analysis said.

Commissioner Tom Ritchey stressed the need for a clearer financial picture in the coming weeks.

"There needs to be a plan that shows all of these figures to let voters know what they'll vote for," he said. "There should be nothing hidden."

Propes said if the district was formed, he hoped that proponents would be able to gather the requisite signatures to move forward with a ballot measure.

"Otherwise, you would be waiting another two years (to vote on the center) and this district wouldn't be doing a whole lot," he said.


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