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Funds pegged for community center

SFS Architecture will design a new community center for the city of Excelsior Springs to put before voters next spring.

The community center project has been going on for a considerable period of time; by some counts, it’s been in the works for two decades or more. But before going to the ballot in April, the Community Center Steering Committee and the Excelsior Springs City Council knew that they’d have to be able to share with voters not just the design, but other details such as cost, method of operation and features.

On Monday afternoon, the Excelsior Springs Capital Improvements Authority agreed to fund a contract with SFS for up to $95,000—$85,710 for the actual phase I contract cost, plus up to $8,000 in reimbursable expenses and a small buffer fund as a contingency.

That’s not to say the decision came without some discussion.

City Manager David Haugland explained that a request for qualifications brought responses from seven different firms. That number was narrowed down to four companies which were actually called in for interviews; SFS was deemed to be the best choice based upon the qualifications.

But some of the authority members were vocally leery of allocating nearly $100,000 without some more details. Bob Ingle, for example, wanted to know more about the location, which has been set along the north side of Wornall Road between Tiger Drive and Crown Hill Road.

According to Haugland, the Excelsior Springs School District owns the land but has agreed to provide up to the entire 13.5 acres for the project, in return for consideration as school groups want to schedule use of the facility.

But at Ingle’s questioning, Haugland admitted that the final costs had not yet been fully determined. That’s part of SFS’s job, he explained: determining the exact features, the cost and even putting together a side-by-side comparison of operations as they would be performed by the city or by an outside provider such as the YMCA.

“We won’t have the hard costs until after the election,” Haugland said, but he pointed out that SFS would put together an anticipated cost—based almost entirely on the budget the city laid out.

Speaking of which, members of the authority who have also been serving on the steering committee cleared up some ideas about the cost of the project. Tray Harkins said that the $17 million figure that some have used was assigned as a total cost if the city built a facility that met the requests on a “wish list” established by the steering committee. Specifically, that amount was the result of taking the wish list, matching it up with a past study that outlined the square footage needed for each feature and then determining the cost per square foot of each of those features.

“I think $17 is a far reach,” said Mayor Ambrose Buckman, who serves on the steering committee and also as a liaison for the authority. “I think it’s more like $12 million.”

Haugland agreed, but offered a price range of $12 to $14 million.

Ingle also inquired about some of the discussed features. Some kind of pool would be included, but he questioned the need for a gymnasium when there are similar spaces at the immediately adjacent Excelsior Springs High School and Excelsior Springs Middle School.

Steering committee members responded that any gym space would be designed more as multipurpose space, with special flooring that would be adaptable for many different uses. Haugland said part of SFS’s job will be determining how to get the most use out of a community center, and how to program activities so that the community really gets their money’s worth.

He also said SFS’s work would help outline details such as the cost for individuals and families to use the facility.

The issue that will go before voters in April 2014 is a one-cent sales tax that, using current numbers, would raise enough to build a $17 million facility with nothing left over, or a smaller facility with some built-in cushion for other uses such as operations.

The contract with SFS is expected to go before the Excelsior Springs City Council for final approval as early as Aug. 19.

For more on this story, see the print edition or e-edition of the Tuesday, Aug. 13, Standard.

By Eric Copeland •

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