City Committee Picks Edge of Ellis Park as Rec Center Site

By Dave Franzman, Reporter

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa-After two and a half years of searching, a committee charged with finding a spot for a new Cedar Rapids recreation center hopes they've finally got it right.

The Northwest Recreation Center Site Selection Task Force met Thursday morning to pick a site in time for a FEMA deadline. The federal agency is paying almost $3-million dollars to replace the Time Check Recreation Center lost to flooding in 2008.

The city hoped to replace the building near its original location. But FEMA rejected that Ellis Boulevard and J Avenue N.W. site last fall because it fell within the 100 year flood plain. The site committee most recently had proposed building in Cleveland Park near Veterans Memorial Stadium. But that location ran into considerable opposition. But members finally settled on a new alternative. It's the eastern edge of Ellis Park off Ellis Lane—land which now houses two maintenance buildings.

The city has until April 1st to submit a plan or risk losing the replacement rec center funding.

During the committee meeting, Gary Stansbery told members there was another group waiting besides FEMA. That group is the kids who want their recreation center back.

"We've been at this almost five years, kids need someplace to go," Stansbert said.

The two maintenance buildings belonging to both the parks and recreation departments sit next to softball fields at Ellis and just south of the Ellis Pool. Members heard it will cost about $500,000 to demolish both structures and prepare the ground. Another $800,000 may be needed to build the maintenance buildings elsewhere.

But the site committee felt the buildings were due for replacement in just a few years anyway. So that pushed the maintenance buildings at Ellis to the top of the rec center site list.

Linda Seger, a neighborhood activist and site committee member, said "it's not as if we're putting it a long way away. Eventually this will all work out."

Ann Poe, a Cedar Rapids City Council member who is on the selection committee, said "I think we're in a good position and we're going to meet that deadline."

The recent ice jam flooding in the Time Check neighborhood raised the question about building at the edge of the park. But while flood water covered some of the ground envisioned as rec center parking, nothing came near the building site itself. City officials say the site of the maintenance buildings also remained dry in the June 2008 flood.

City engineer Dave Elgin believes it is also possible to elevate the access road or take other steps to prevent high water from even cutting off access.

The Cedar Rapids City Council must vote on the site choice before it gets sent to FEMA. That will happen on March 26th. Since a majority of the council is on that committee, members didn't believe getting final approval would be a problem.
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