City Hall was abuzz with applause Tuesday evening following the Manhattan City Commission’s decision to move forward with construction plans for the new Douglass Recreation Center.
Commissioners voted 4-1 in front of a packed meeting room after residents urged the commission to move forward with plans for a brand-new facility with enhanced recreational spaces for youth and adults.
The commission opted to enter into a contract with Trinium Inc. of Manhattan in the amount of $3.83 million.
Plans for the new center include a pickleball and volleyball auditorium, an 84-foot basketball court, two 74-foot basketball courts and a three-lane elevated walking track above the course, among other amenities.
The current facility was constructed in 1903, according to the city.
Several people who spoke during the public hearing portion of the meeting said the time is now to get the ball rolling for the project as plans have been in the works for the past three or four years.
Others urged the commission to postpone voting until after the first of the year for the new commission to decide, which commissioner Wynn Butler agreed with.
“I feel a responsibility to help make a decision on this,” McKee said in response to those comments.
McKee said the Douglass Recreation Center is his second priority, behind only the levee improvements.
“It sounds like we can get both of them done, so I’m going to vote yes on this,” McKee said.
Butler, the sole commissioner who voted against the measure, raised concerns about funding.
“I’m still committed to not raising the property tax,” Butler said.
He questioned how the new commission will be able to fund the project and said the city does not have a firm financial plan moving forward.
“I’m for the proposal, but not the financing because it’s not nailed down,” Butler said.
Butler suggested looking into using economic development funds toward paying for the project, but the commission did not discuss that.
The city will look to finance the project through bonds, which the commission approved back in May. Approximately $4.6 million in debt will be bonded, according to officials. That will cover the $3.83 million project plus financing and other costs.
It is not yet clear how the city will pay back that debt.
The city must complete the project over the course of 3-4 years or the U.S. Housing and Urban Development will require all the Community Development Block Grant funds to be repaid. CDBG bonds were used originally for design fees with Bruce McMillan of Manhattan. CDBG funds amount to $348,677, according to officials.
Commissioner Usha Reddi said centers like this are critical to help foster friendships, fitness and overall well-being.
“I am all for this project,” Reddi said. “I have been for awhile. It is time we do this.”
Commissioner Linda Morse called the project “worthy,” and said it is important to balance the needs of the community by completing this center. Mayor Mike Dodson touched on the topic of mentorship and expressed his support for completion of the center.
Carl Taylor, pastor of the Mount Zion Family Worship Center — which is next to the current Douglass Center on Yuma Street — spoke about the importance of providing a space for children in the area to use for athletic and social growth, especially those who did not make sports teams at school.
“They’re still teenagers. They’re still young people who need a place to go,” Taylor said. “This addresses all of Manhattan, not just one area. All of Manhattan, every child that is here has an opportunity to go there. ... Just because you don’t play football at Manhattan High does not mean you don’t want to lift weights. Just because you don’t want to run track does not mean you don’t want to run.”
Some residents suggested during public comment that people should use other facilities such as the new Genesis Health Clubs gym, planned to open in Manhattan soon, but Taylor said not everyone can afford that.
“So it is important to have the facility and also address the needs of those who cannot pay to go join Genesis or K-State or any other health club here in our community,” Taylor said.
The walking track is a plus for residents as well as more gym space for children, said Maureen Sheahan, Douglass Center Advisory Board member.
“Having the separate gymnasium will be a huge benefit to the area, and to the kids to be able to have a safe place to go, a safe place to hang out,” Sheahan said.
In other action Tuesday, commissioners:
Approved the city and the Chamber of Commerce entering into a contract with the Convention & Visitors Bureau for 2020. The contract specifies that the city must provide the chamber up to $1.29 million received from the 7.5% transient guest tax over the course of 2020, which is the same amount as 2019. The chamber then provides tourism services for Manhattan. The total revenue allotted for 2020 is $1.9 million in transient guest tax and starts with a fund of $125,265, officials said.