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What’s next for Iowa City’s aging recreation facilities?


Mercer Park, March 3, 2019. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

The City Park Pool is reaching its 73rd season. The Robert A. Lee Community Recreation Center is now 58 years old, and the Mercer Park Aquatic Center is 34. Iowa City’s recreation facilities are getting old.

Since last fall, the city’s Parks and Recreation Department has hosted a series of in-person listening events, community focus groups and online surveys to get public input for its Gather Here Recreation Master Plan, which will provide a blueprint for recreation facilities, programs and events for the next 10 years.

“We do have some aging facilities, and that’s one of the other questions that we’re trying to gather from the public — is what they’d like to see us do with our facilities,” Brad Barker, the recreation superintendent, told Little Village.

The City Park Pool, for example, “looks great” but isn’t designed to last 73 years.

“There’s some issues behind the scenes that’s really kind of pushing us for some direction from the community on what they like to see moving forward, because we’re going to have to do something in regards to a replacement,” he said.

To gather more public input, the department has posted another needs assessment survey online. This survey focuses on the City Park Pool, Mercer Park Aquatic Center and Scanlon Gym, Robert A. Lee Community Recreation Center, outdoor sports fields, and future recreation activities, programs and events. It does not ask about parks, trails or playgrounds, which were addressed in the Gather Here Park Master Plan from 2017.

The first question on the survey asks residents how recreation programs and facilities should serve the community. Should it help improve mental and physical health, contribute to the local economy, provide access to local whole foods, etc.?

What kind of recreation amenities does the community want? Climbing walls, photography studios, a community kitchen? Should they provide adult sports programs or youth STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) programs? What would a renovated public pool have?

Robert A. Lee Recreation Center, 220 S Gilbert St, Iowa City. Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

The Parks and Rec department’s consulting team are evaluating the state of existing facilities and compiling results of previous surveys and input sessions, which the department will begin to analyze in early February. During the spring, the public will be able to review that data before it’s finalized into the master plan this summer. The updates and renovations will also address the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Transition Plan, Barker said.

They also want to hear from people who don’t use recreation facilities, whether it’s because of mistreatment based on race, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, country of origin or disability, lack of transportation, burdensome fees, lack of programs, inconvenient hours of operation or other reasons.

“This is a great opportunity for people to people to be able to provide their feedback on what they would like to see. And even if they don’t use our facilities, we’d like to learn more about why they don’t use our facilities,” Barker said. “If it’s some barriers to recreation that we should know about, or the programs that they’d like to see that maybe we don’t have, so hearing from those that don’t use our facilities is just as important as those that do.”

In addition to the 28-question survey, more information about the Gather Here Recreation Master Plan is available on its website.

A sunny day at City Park Pool, Iowa City. — Jordan Sellergren/Little Village

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