The student-run news site of Lawrence Free State High School

Free Press Online

The student-run news site of Lawrence Free State High School

Free Press Online

The student-run news site of Lawrence Free State High School

Free Press Online

Check Yourself Before You Rec Yourself


Due to the scarcity of recreational facilities in Lawrence, many student athletes find themselves driving further than they would like to get to practice during the off season   Junior Andrea Stewart, a member of the junior varsity volleyball team at Free State,  is working to improve her skills during the off season.  Getting to the gym can be a challenge, though.

“I know one of the reasons Lawrence doesn’t have many club teams is because of the lack of gym space,” Stewart said.

Stewart plays for Highland’s Performance Volleyball Club in northern Kansas City. Four times a week, she makes the hour-long trip to her team’s gym.  The majority of her club tournaments take place about an hour away as well.  Stewart estimates that she spends an average of 8 hours in the car per week going to and from practice and games.

A new recreation center could shorten many  Lawrence athletes’ off-season driving time.

The idea of a new recreation center has come up  at Lawrence’s Park and Recreation Advisory Council meetings for the past six years.  Now, members of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Council, City Commission, Kansas Athletics and their financial partner, Bliss Sports, are attempting to tie up the loose financial ends in order to get the construction bidding process underway later this month.

Rock Chalk Park will have track and field, soccer and football facilities for the university, in addition to five miles of trails, eight lit tennis courts, 16 volleyball courts, eight basketball courts, an indoor turf field, an aerobic fitness area and a weights area, taking up 181,000 square feet.  It will be located off of George Williams Way on about 89 acres of land, including the area along Baldwin Creek. There will be around 1,400 parking spaces.

The extravagant plans have raised numerous concerns from the public.

A main concern is whether or not 181,000 square feet for a recreation facility is necessary.  The National Parks and Recreation Association found that cities with populations  of 80,000-100,000 generally have one gym provided by the recreation department for every 87,000 people. According to this research, Lawrence has more gyms per capita than average.  The average size of recreation centers provided by recreation departments in cities with populations similar to Lawrence is about 25,000 square feet.

Vice Mayor Michael Dever believes that the facilities are necessary for Lawrence to make sure that the University of Kansas does not have to look outside of Lawrence for field space for its athletes. If Lawrence doesn’t allow the university to use land for their athletics, KU will have to look elsewhere, possibly Wyandotte County.

“The University of Kansas needs these facilities in order to compete in the Big 12,” Dever said at the City Commission meeting on March 5. “In order to alleviate some of the Title IX lawsuits that are out there right now, they need to settle those legal concerns immediately or see additional  repercussions.”

Another worry is that Rock Chalk Park will do nothing but guzzle money from taxpayers and the city.  However, Bliss Sports, the private partner of Kansas Athletics for the project, has confidence that Rock Chalk Park will be an economic success.

Curt Peterson, a representative of Bliss Sports anticipates that Rock Chalk Park will attract a variety of large events to Lawrence.  For example, an AAU track meet would probably come to the new center every couple years with 17,000 athletes, family and friends attending.

“Some have likened it to having a whole football game here at the university for two weeks straight,” Peterson said at the City Commission meeting on March 5th. “I could go on and on about big twelve tournaments for all three sports that will be looking….here or AAU tournaments or Special Olympics, high school championships. All of these things…will create huge economic benefits…This is a huge, huge opportunity for the city.”

Peterson also noted that Rock Chalk Park would be able to host other AAU tournaments, Special Olympics, Big 12 tournaments and high school championships.  The property values in the area would probably increase, and the athletes and family members would aid the overall city economy by eating and staying in locally owned establishments during competition.

City Manager David Corliss has estimated that outside events will generate about $650,000 a year, on the basis of 32 events a year. Revenue will come through these outside events and leagues, classes and tournaments offered at the new center.  However, some Lawrencians are not convinced.

“I think that we, the citizens of this city, may lose money on this deal,” Lawrence resident Laura Ruth said. “I also think that the projected revenues are optimistic and speculative.”

Kevin Loos, Vice Chairman of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Council, envisions that the new facilities will have potential similar to Wyandotte County. Wyandotte saw immense economic growth after a Nascar racetrack was constructed in the county. Popular stores such as Nebraska Furniture Mart and Cabela’s were also built, and those, along with other entities, have dramatically bettered Wyandotte County’s economy.

“When I look at [Rock Chalk Park],  I think it has that potential 15-20 years down the road for…[the] scale of Lawrence,” Loos said. “I don’t know when we will have another opportunity to do this for Lawrence.”

At the City Commission meeting on March 5, a 4-1 vote gave Rock Chalk Park Recreation Center a 10-year tax abatement.  After the 10 years, KU can request up to an additional 40. If this is not granted, KU Athletics will pay the taxes on the center.

Stewart looks forward to Rock Chalk Park because she thinks it will draw more sports to Lawrence.

    “There are a lot of people that travel for sports because there isn’t a lot available in Lawrence [due to] gym space,” Stewart said.  “[The recreation center] would open up a whole new door to sports in Lawrence.”

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