Cedar Rapids Council Approves New West-side Recreation Center

By Rick Smith, Reporter

The Northwest Recreation Center and park will be built in the 100-year flood plain between Ellis Boulevard and Fourth Street NW to the west and east, and between I and K Avenues on the south and north. Photographed from 5th Street NW north of I Avenue on Thursday, March 15, 2012, in northwest Cedar Rapids (Liz Martin/The Gazette-KCRG)

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By Aaron Hepker

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - The City Council voted 8-0 on Tuesday to build a replacement for the flood-ruined Time Check Recreation Center right next to the old center in the 100-year flood plain.

Earlier this month, a City Hall site selection committee, which includes a majority of the city’s nine council members, recommended the same thing: that the $3-million replacement facility go up in the city’s 3.87-acre Time Check Park at Fifth Street and J Avenue NW.

Joe O’Hern, the city’s flood recovery and reinvestment director, reminded the council on Tuesday that the Federal Emergency Management Agency must still approve spending FEMA disaster dollars on a new recreation center in the 100-year flood plain.

Julie Sina, the city’s parks and recreation director, noted that the current plan is to elevate the new facility between three and four feet above the site so it is one foot above the 100-year flood plain as required by city ordinance.

However, water in the June 2008 flood reached to the 14-foot mark in the former center, which since has been demolished.

Council member Kris Gulick said Tuesday that he expected the city to do more than simply elevate the new facility to try to lessen the damage if floodwaters hit again.

Former west-side District 4 council member Chuck Wieneke, who did not seek re-election last November, asked the council on Tuesday to pick another site for the recreation center outside the 100-year flood plain. Public dollars shouldn’t be spent in such a risky spot, he said.

Back in the late September 2011, a first site selection committee backed building the center on high ground in Ellis Park next to but not in the Time Check and Harrison School neighborhoods. However, some neighbors objected.

Council member Scott Olson, who was elected in November to Wieneke’s former council seat, said he had agreed with Wieneke’s position early on but has since changed his mind. The neighborhood, Olson said, likes the Time-Check Park site because it will help with commercial development along Ellis Boulevard NW.

"It’s a tough decision. There’s no perfect site," Olson said.

The new recreation center will sit almost two blocks from Ellis Boulevard NW, but the lawn in front of the center will reach to the boulevard, according to the site plan for the center.

Also on Tuesday, the council approved a special zoning overlay district for the Ellis Boulevard area, which will allow the city to require certain design standards and guidelines for commercial and apartment developments there.

Council member Don Karr noted that residents twice have voted down a referendum to raise revenue from a local-option sales tax to help pay for a new flood protection system on the city’s west side. Such a system, Karr noted, would take the Time-Check Park site out of the 100-year flood plain and remove concern about future flood there.

Karr said it made sense to move ahead on the recreation center site because the city one day will have west-side flood protection, he said.

Council member Ann Poe, who co-chaired the latest site selection committee for the recreation center, said putting the new facility in Time Check Park will help move the city’s west side forward.

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