Fate of Rec Center hangs in balance, city moves on other priorities | News

Bidding is expected to start Dec. 18 on an estimated $7.3-million modernization of the Carroll Recreation Center, a plan that includes major heating and air-conditioning work in the 1977 building, remodeling of locker rooms and the addition of a second gym and raised walking/jogging track.

The bidding is slated to run for a month with the newly-elected City Council scheduled to consider potential approval Jan. 24. Construction on the project, if approved, could start in early 2022. City officials plan to stage work to keep the Rec Center open during the development.

“I think we’ve already invested a lot of time and money,” said Mayor Eric Jensen.

Carroll City Council members in March approved a $500,000 engineering contract with RDG Planning & Design, a prominent Midwest firm, for work associated with the improvements to the Carroll Recreation Center. The measure passed 6-0. The city can’t recoup that money if it drops the project, although the planning could be used as a basis to pivot in another direction with work at the Rec Center.

The Rec Center project emerged with a long list of other discussion items during a four-hour strategic planning session Tuesday with current and future elected officials. Jensen and Mayor-elect Mark Beardmore attended as did all current and elected City Council members with the exception of Tom Bordenaro and Councilman Clay Haley.

All eight members and those elected earlier this month (who will start duties at City Hall Jan. 1) agreed on spending $95,000 of local money toward a $955,000 airport runway light replacement project. Elected officials also stressed strong support for an estimated $160,000 sidewalk linking Timberline Road to Pleasant Ridge Road; and funding for repairing the cemetery’s stone walls, fence pillars, buildings and monuments.

Elected officials did not include a suggestion, popular with city department heads, to hire a public relations director for the city at an estimated cost of $41,500 to $59,000 annually. The proposal fell short of making the city’s strategic future goals list.

The council and council-elect also rejected a proposal to pursue adding a second overpass in Carroll on the east side of town over the Union Pacific Railroad lines. No elected official supported moving forward with that idea.

As for the Rec Center, with hundreds of thousands of dollars invested in engineering work already, elected officials seemed to reach a consensus to see what the bids come back like before passing final judgment.

“Your bids could come in lower,” said Elizabeth Hansen of Midwest Municipal Consulting, the city’s Ankeny-based strategic planning facilitator.

Beardmore said the community has a perception that the City Council acted on its own, against the wishes of the public, in moving on the Rec project. He favors repairs of the existing facility and said the Rec Center has seen major improvements in the last 44 years, including the addition of a mezzanine, 24/7 fitness access and other amenities.

“This is not the same Rec it was in 1977,” Beardmore said.

He wants to “pick and choose” from the plan to reduce costs. But he did not suggest the city kill the full plan before reviewing bids.

Councilman Mike Kots, who is leaving his Ward 1 seat after 10 years of service, said he was not an early proponent of the Rec Center project. But he said a scaled-back plan without major pool development makes sense.

“This is where I got on board with this,” Kots said. “You give and you take.”

Maintenance work too often falls off the priority list, he said.

“It’s past due to get improvements done,” Kots said.

Kots said the second gym is needed to complete the walking track, a feature that has widespread support in Carroll.

Councilwoman Carolyn Siemann said the Rec Center work is needed to keep Carroll attractive to regional employees and potential new businesses and residents.

“People don’t want to live in a town with nothing to do,” she said.

Councilman LaVern Dirkx said the city has been fully transparent with the Rec Center process. In fact, he noted, the City Council voted to use local-option sales tax dollars in June 2020 on the project, four months before voters rejected a plan that would have allowed for use of general-obligation bonds to fund the pool development and a plan nearly twice as expensive as the one set to go out to bid in just weeks. The proposal that failed to clear a referendum included substantial pool improvements.

The elected officials, and council and mayor elect, identified a local labor shortage and what they assess as a lack of affordable housing, as major problems in Carroll.

Beardmore said for the most part there are two types of businesses in Carroll: “rock star” stores and companies and services, and those that can’t keep their doors open or are on the verge of closing.

“There doesn’t seem to be much in between,” Beardmore said.

City Manager Mike Pogge-Weaver said local builders often are fully booked on projects, and he worries about some long-time developers retiring.

“Do we go out and really push more incentives” for new housing development? he asked.

The city needs to decide if it is going to work more aggressively with out-of-town developers, Pogge-Weaver said.

“Some builders would say, ‘Never build a house unless it is a local person doing it,’” Pogge-Weaver said.

Jensen said the city has tried to incent local developers.

“But we’re not getting anywhere with them,” Jensen said.

 Misinformation and Social Media

Several elected officials said misinformation and “flat out lies” on social media — and the often toxic atmosphere on platforms like Facebook — are making it difficult to govern — and making it challenging to live rewarding lives in Carroll.

“I waste so much of my time explaining to people the things they hear on social media that are false,” Dirkx said.

The city’s seven department heads and Pogge-Weaver raised the issue of hiring a public relations director to get more information out to the public and combat disinformation.

“I think it’s really in part a response to social media,” Pogge-Weaver said.

Privately, some elected officials said trying to ferret out and rebut lies on social media would be a never-ending process.

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