PAOLA — Paola city officials now have a better idea of what a new sports complex would look like in Wallace Park — and what it would cost.
Paola City Council members reviewed results of a community survey about the sports facilities in Wallace Park, as well as a proposed plan for a new complex, during a work session Tuesday, June 1.
Confluence representatives Christopher Shires and Matt Carlile put on the presentation. The city has hired Confluence to update Paola’s comprehensive plan, and mapping out a strategy for the ballfields is a big part of the process.
The Confluence representatives said they received about 500 responses from the recent sports facility needs survey, and a majority of the respondents (83 percent) said they believe the community would support an improved Wallace Park sports complex that would increase traffic into the community.
Another question asked participants if the sports complex should be built within Wallace Park or in a different location with other improvements made to Wallace Park amenities. A majority of the respondents (57.7 percent) said they wanted the new sports complex to remain in Wallace Park.
“I think your community is saying this is a priority,” Shires said.
With that in mind, Confluence put together a proposed plan for what a new sports complex could look like at Wallace Park. Carlile walked council members through the plan, which includes a four-plex of turf fields in the first phase and two additional grass fields farther south in the flood plain in the second phase, while also keeping the existing Lou Baehr and Julie Silver fields to the southeast.
The proposed plan includes multiple ways to enter the complex, with a parking lot being located next to the Paola American Legion building off Delaware Street and a new road with parking stalls winding around the southern portion of the four-plex and connecting back up with Wallace Park Drive.
Frequent flooding in Wallace Park has been a concern raised by many community residents regarding the fields, and Carlile said the proposed plan includes about $1 million worth of dirt work to get the main four-plex out of the 100-year flood plain.
“Ultimately, you could have eight fields, four that could be used during flooding,” Carlile said.
The proposed plan also includes concrete paving of roadways and parking lots, which were not included in the cost estimate of the plan from Mammoth Sports Construction that Paola Youth Sports representatives presented to the city earlier this year.
That initial plan, which also included a four-field complex including lights, full field turf, scoreboards, batting cages, bleachers, backstops, dugouts, bases and all applicable field design elements, was estimated to cost $2.8 million for 220-foot fields.
The additional dirt work, concrete paving and other elements of the new plan have increased that cost estimate to $8.6 million for both phases.
That includes $350,000 for softball field concessions and restroom, $48,000 for batting cages, $200,000 for parking lot lights, $150,000 for softball field lighting, and $1.4 million in site preparation work. The second phase accounts for $1.6 million of the $8.6 million total.
That total would eat up much of the estimated $12 million in revenue that the city’s half-cent sales tax is estimated to generate during the next 15 years. The sales tax was renewed by Paola voters in November 2019 to help fund needed improvements to the Paola Family Pool, streets, and parks and recreational facilities, which include the ballfields at Wallace Park.
The tax’s previous 15-year term expires Sept. 30, 2021, which means revenue will start coming in from the renewal this fall, and City Manager Sid Fleming said it could generate about $800,000 each year.
Early estimates are that needed repairs at Paola Family Pool could cost more than $3 million, and that’s not including the annual operating cost of the pool of about $150,000.
Council member LeAnne Shields said it may be more cost effective to look at purchasing land and building the sports complex at another location, and the council members agreed to discuss the possibility during a future executive session.
Council member Dave Smail said many of the same costs associated with the project will still be there regardless of the location. Smail also said having the new sports complex in Wallace Park would help revitalize the south part of town and encourage visitors to drive through town rather than just staying out by the highway if that is where it is built.
The possibility of removing portions of the proposed plan was also discussed, and Carlile mentioned one city that allowed business sponsors to pay for dugouts that would permanently feature their name, but the city would first have to attract the sponsors.
Council member Leigh House said she didn’t like the idea of doing pieces of the project at a time.
“I think if you leave stuff out, either it doesn’t get done, or it doesn’t get done right,” House said.
One topic that kept getting brought up during the discussion is the creation of a recreation commission. City and school district leaders previously have discussed the possibility of joining together to create a rec commission, but no official plans have been formed.
During the June 1 work session, Paola City Council members directed Fleming to reach out to Paola Superintendent Matt Meek about the possibility of forming a task force with city and school district representatives to discuss the creation of a joint rec commission.
Fleming agreed and added that if the city moves forward with plans for a new sports complex, it likely would require the creation of at least one staff position to help manage the facilities, schedule tournaments and complete other management-related tasks.
House said the city may need to hire a rec director first and then pursue the creation of a rec commission.
No official decision could be made at the work session.