Merriam Community Center Project Update

Merriam is building a new community center with indoor and outdoor aquatics at Vavra Park for $30 million. The groundbreaking ceremony at Vavra Park is scheduled for Aug. 30 at 8:30 a.m. under the park’s shelter.

Learn more about the overall project, including the community center and aquatic designs, budget, and information about the proposed library onsite. More information is at

SE concept


Check Your Mail – Ballots for the Community Center Ballot Initiative Arrive This Week. Your Questions Answered.

Check your mail – ballots for the community center ballot initiative are arriving this week! As you get ready to cast your ballot, here are the answers to a few additional questions we received from residents over the weekend. Be sure to check out our full ballot initiative website, which includes links to the various studies we’ve conducted, the financial analysis for both options, and an extensive Frequently Asked Questions section. We’re also happy to answer any other questions you have. Feel free to contact us on Facebook, Twitter, or by email. 

Why is the new community center $30 million – can’t we build a new facility for less?

Through public forums and citizen surveys, residents said the top amenities they want in a new recreation facility are indoor/outdoor pools, an indoor walking/jogging track, a full basketball court, and a child watch area. These amenities, as well as a fitness center, aerobics room, classroom/meeting space, and the Parks and Recreation Department offices will fill the bulk of the proposed 66,000 square foot community center at Vavra Park.

The cost estimate for the build new option is based on the cost of recent buildings of this size and scope. We used conservative assumptions vetted by professionals in the building industry and reviewed by a resident steering committee.


If the issue passes and we build a new community center, what happens if the sales tax doesn’t bring in enough to cover the bond payments?

Two key points were considered for this project when evaluating if this is the right time to move forward with a bond issue and sales tax:

Today’s retail environment can support it. The financial analysis for this project is based off of today’s retail environment in Merriam. It doesn’t include the additional sales tax revenue from businesses we know are coming to town, including two new car dealerships.

The future is more certain in a 10-year timeframe. While the resident steering committee, City staff, and City Council considered a 20-year bond term and 20-year sales tax, we ultimately decided to move forward with a 10-year term for both because it saved the City money in the long run. The City can afford the increased annual payment, and more importantly, the future is more certain in a 10-year timeframe.

If an unforeseen circumstance significantly impacts the retail environment and sales tax revenue in Merriam, plenty of options exist to make adjustments and cover the debt service payment on the bonds. These options don’t include raising property taxes or significantly impacting the level of City services. Tools available include utilizing a portion of the City’s fund balance set aside as a contingency for situations like this, refinancing the bonds to a longer term, or reprioritizing non-essential areas of the budget.


How accurate are your cost estimates for the repair/renovate option?

The cost estimates for the Irene B. French Community Center (IBFCC) and the Merriam Aquatic Center (MAC) are the result of an extensive study conducted by a team of consultants and vetted by the resident steering committee.

Much like your own home, remodeling is expensive and you often encounter unknown issues. At the IBFCC, there are no comprehensive blueprints available for the building due to its age and number of owners, so our cost estimates for repairs are based on what we know today.

Things are continuing to break down. Our repair budget for 2017 was gone by July, and we regularly find new issues in the course of making necessary repairs. While we’re confident that $20 million will help us take significant steps toward repairing and renovating the IBFCC and MAC, the scope of work isn’t known until we start reconstruction.


Could the City make repairs to the IBFCC and pool without putting the City in any debt?

The City has $6 million currently available for the build new or repair/renovate options, so bonds would need to be issued either way. While the total price tag for repair/renovation ($20 million) is less than build new ($30 million) option, the annual debt payment is more because a new revenue source (the sales tax) wouldn’t be implemented. You can read more about this on our FAQs page.


How much more will membership cost at new community center?

It’s the City’s priority to keep this facility affordable and accessible for all members of our community, and City Council would need to approve any rate structure before it’s implemented. As part of the study, a business plan and pro-forma were completed for the build new option and the following initial rate structure was proposed:

Family Membership Proposed Rates

 Memberships  Annual  Monthly
Current Membership Rate at IBFCC + MAC  $465  $38.75
 Membership Rate at New Facility  $540  $45.00

Individual Membership Proposed Rates

 Memberships  Annual  Monthly
Current Membership Rate at IBFCC + MAC  $370  $30.83
 Membership Rate at New Facility  $360  $30.00 

If you combine the community center and pool membership rates, an individual membership would see about a $1 decrease per month while a family membership would see about a $7 increase per month.


Will voting YES to build new impact the quality of our parks, streets, and roads?

The City has worked hard over the past few years to finish a number of major infrastructure improvement projects listed in the Capital Improvement Plan (the program used to fund improvements to parks, streets, roads and other infrastructure). We are also in the midst of several projects that are already funded. With a majority of infrastructure projects behind us, we’ve entered a cycle of repair and will focus on maintaining our infrastructure to the level our residents expect.

Your Vote Counts! Register to Vote by Tomorrow to Automatically Receive a Ballot in the Mail

Last Day to Register to Vote is on Aug. 25

Merriam residents need to register to vote by TOMORROW, Aug. 16 to automatically receive a ballot in the mail. The last day to register to vote on the new community center is on Friday, Aug. 25.

If you register to vote between Aug. 17 and Aug. 25, then you’ll have to fill out an Application for Replacement Mailing in addition to the Kansas Voter Registration. The Election Office will then mail you a ballot.

Residents can fill out the replacement mailing paperwork and scan/email, fax, or hand deliver it to the Johnson County Election Office.

More information about voting and filling out the ballot can be found at


MailBallotReplacementApplicationApplication for Replacement Mailing

Ballots Due by Friday, Sept. 15 at Noon

The Johnson County Election Office will mail out ballots to all registered voters within Merriam city limits on Aug. 25. The Election Office must receive all ballots by noon on Sept. 15, 2017, to be counted in the official election results.

Ballots can be mailed in the pre-paid envelope provided or dropped off at the Johnson County Election Office: 2101 E. Kansas City Road; Olathe, KS; 66061.

A 24-hour drop box is available at the front entrance of the Election Office.

ballot envelopesx

More information on how to fill out the return envelope.

Merriam registered voters will decide the future of recreation in the City and your vote counts! Doing nothing is NOT an option!

yes no vote


Video Highlights Blight at IBFCC and MAC

The City of Merriam has released a video covering the upcoming community center ballot initiative. The video highlights issues at the Irene B. French Community Center and Merriam Aquatic Center and features residents sharing their views on the future of recreation in Merriam.

Between Aug. 25 and Sept. 15, Merriam’s registered voters will decide whether to vote YES and approve a new $30 million community center and pool at Vavra Park or vote NO and the City would use an estimated $20 million to make repairs and renovations at the two current facilities.

The $30 million community center would be paid for with $24 million in bonds and $6 million in budgeted money from the Capital Improvement Program. A YES vote would also include approving a new 10-year quarter-cent sales tax to help cover the bond payment. The sales tax would take effect on Jan. 1, 2018. Studies show that about 82 cents of every sales-tax dollar collected comes from non-Merriam residents.

Studies also show the IBFCC and MAC need an estimated $20 million in repairs and renovations to help bring them up to modern standards, including being compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The City is offering guided facility tours to show maintenance and repair issues in person.

More information about the 2017 Community Center Ballot Initiative.

More information on how to vote.

Doing nothing is not an option – please vote!

Tour Our Community and Aquatic Centers

Merriam city employees do a great job making sure the Irene B. French Community Center and the Merriam Aquatic Center look presentable. On the surface, everything looks great – why do we need a new community center and pool? But if you go behind the scenes, you’ll see how much the 100+ and 30+ year-old facilities are deteriorating.

We encourage you to visit our facilities during one of our drop-in tours so you can see for yourself.

Drop-In Building Tours:

Irene B. French Community Center                     Merriam Aquatics Center

Aug. 2 – 5-8 p.m.                                                            July 24 – 5:30-8 p.m.

Aug. 19 – 9 a.m. – Noon                                               Aug. 8 – 5-8 p.m.

Aug. 31 – 5-8 p.m.

Sept. 12 – 5-8 p.m.

Can’t make one of these tour dates but still have a question about the facilities? Ask us in person. Merriam city employees will be out and about this summer to make sure you’re informed about the upcoming mail-in ballot. We’ll be at these community events throughout the next couple of months:

July 21 – Party in YOUR Park // 6:30-8:30 p.m. // Quail Creek Park

July 26 – Frosty Pop with a Cop // 1-2:15 p.m. // Merriam Aquatics Center

July 28 – Surf’s Up Pool Party Palooza // 7:30-9 p.m. // Merriam Aquatics Center

Aug. 12 – Cruise Night // 6:30-8:30 p.m. // Merriam Marketplace

Aug. 19 – Party in YOUR Park // 6:30-8:30 p.m. // Campbell Park

Sept. 5 – Pooch Paddle // 5:45-7:30 p.m. // Merriam Aquatics Center

Sept 9 – Turkey Creek Car and Motorcycle Show // 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. // Merriam Marketplace

Or you can watch this video:

You have the opportunity to determine the future of recreation in our community, and we want residents to be proud of their community center.

More information at

Building Community, the Merriam Way


City Council on Monday voted to allow Merriam residents to determine the future of recreation in our community.

All registered voters within Merriam city limits will receive a ballot in the mail in late August. You will vote on whether the City should issue $24 million in bonds and approve a 10-year quarter-cent sales tax to help pay for a new community center, which would be built at Vavra Park.

The new, 66,000 square foot community center would include amenities such as an indoor walking/jogging track, indoor/outdoor pools, a full-sized gym, and child watch among other features.

It will replace the current 100+ year-old Irene B. French Community Center and 30+ year-old Merriam Aquatic Center.

What This Means to You  

The entire project is expected to cost $30 million. Of that, $24 million would come from bonds and $6 million would be paid through money already budgeted in the City’s Capital Improvement Program (CIP).

The quarter-cent sales tax helps cover the debt service on the bonds to pay for the new community center. So, if you bought $100 in groceries, you’d pay an additional 25 cents sales tax.

Using sales tax revenues means Merriam residents pay less. That’s because about $0.82 of every dollar collected comes from people outside of our community. You’ll get the benefit of a $30 million new community center for the price tag of about $5.4 million, or about $48 a person per year for 10 years.

Please Vote!

The Johnson County Election Office will mail out ballots on Aug. 25, 2017. The Election Office must receive all ballots by NOON on Sept. 15, 2017, to be counted in the official election results. The deadline to register to vote in this election is Friday, Aug. 25. Additional information about voting and filling out the ballot can be found at

A YES vote means:

  • The City will issue $24 million in general obligation bonds to pay for the New Community Center. The remaining project balance of $6 million will be paid for through money already budgeted in the City’s CIP.
  • A new one-quarter percent sales tax will be implemented on Jan. 1, 2018, for 10 years to cover the debt service on the bonds.
  • The new facility will be built at Vavra Park.

Please continue to check our Frequently Asked Questions section at We want to make sure you are educated when you vote.

What Will Happen to Our Current Facilities if it Passes?

The City will conduct a community process to determine the Irene B. French Community Center’s future. Several ideas have already been discussed, including the construction of an amphitheater or destination playground. Honoring our history and the legacy of the building is a priority for the City, as is our presence in downtown.

Visit for more information about this mail-in vote.

City Council Hears Staff’s Recommendation on Community Center Ballot Initiative

Merriam City Council heard staff’s recommendation to move forward with a Community Center ballot initiative at its June 12 meeting. City Administrator Chris Engel provided a summary of the public outreach process.

View Engel’s recommendation to City Council.

View Engel’s Powerpoint presentation.

The City Council unanimously approved a motion to formally hear a resolution to consider approval of a ballot initiative election at its next meeting on June 26. If the resolution passes, the City would move forward with placing this issue on the ballot for voters to decide.

The conversation started many years ago but came to fruition in late 2016 and early 2017 when the Steering Committee presented its facilities master plan and recommendation for a build new option to the community and the City Council. The City transitioned into staff presentations on specific issues related to the renovation/repair and build new options, including a joint public meeting with the community in late April. Additional public input and information gathering has occurred since then.

Based on the information accumulated, Engel presented staff’s recommendation to move forward with a ballot initiative to issue $24 million of general obligation bonds to pay for a new community center and aquatic facility at Vavra park, along with a new quarter-cent sales tax to help cover debt service on the bonds. The election would take place via a mail-in ballot that would be due on Sept. 15, 2017.


Development Challenges in Downtown Merriam

Economic development in downtown Merriam is challenging – but for more than just the usual reasons. The combination of downtown’s location in a floodplain and the age of the buildings mean there are number of building code requirements that businesses owners must comply with before they can renovate or remodel in the area.

During his presentation to the City Council on May 22, Community Development Director Bryan Dyer explained that if remodeling or retrofitting occurs to more than a certain percent of a building, or if the building changes use, it has to be brought up to code, especially in the areas of accessibility and life safety. These changes are then coupled with the impact of floodplain regulations and flood insurance requirements, and that creates a situation many small business owners and developers struggle to make work financially.

“Many developers understand the building code issues when dealing with older buildings, but the real issue for us comes with being in the flood plain. There are a considerable number of requirements and associated costs, and it discourages development. There is an interest in developing downtown Merriam – as there is an interest in developing lots of downtown areas right now – but ours has unique challenges,” Dyer said.

The challenges with developing in Downtown Merriam extend beyond the business community, however. The City is currently navigating through these issues as part of the conversation about the future of the Irene B. French Community Center. Because of the extensive nature of the repairs required in the building, if one issue is fixed, a number of others must be fixed too. This makes it nearly impossible to do minor renovations and repairs, which only compounds the problems we are facing with the condition of the building. And although the community center itself doesn’t sit in the floodplain (portions of the property its on do), flooding is a regular issue in the building. The community center has 18 sump pumps, many of which regularly fail and result in standing water and water damage in locations throughout the building.

To view a full list of the issues in the facility, see our Frequently Asked Questions. You can also view a video about the repairs needed on our YouTube channel.

Updated FAQs Available

Thank you to everyone who participated in our public meeting and who has contacted us with questions about this issue.  We have updated our Frequently Asked Questions to reflect the questions we’ve heard recently.

City staff and members of the Steering Committee will continue hosting information booths about this topic throughout the community in the coming weeks.  Come see us at:

  • Turkey Creek Festival – Saturday, May 20 // 10  to 4 p.m. // Antioch Park
  • Party in Your Park – Friday, June 16 // 6:30 to 4:30 p.m. // Brown Park
  • Information Booth – Saturday, June 17 // 9 to 11 a.m. // Merriam Hen House