City of Cedar Rapids Moves Ahead with Plans to Build New Recreation Center

By Rick Smith, Reporter

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - No city flood-recovery project has been tougher to get built than the replacement for the flood-ruined Time Check Recreation Center.

Once again on Friday, the city's Site Selection Task Force — which includes a majority of the City Council — said it wants to build the $3-million replacement center in nearly the same spot as the former center had been in Time-Check Park.

Building on the site will require the City Council to do what in past years it said it didn't want to do: spend public money under its control to build in the 100-year flood plain. No one on the task force expressed any concern about that on Friday.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency must still sign off on building on the site.

Julie Sina, the city's parks and recreation director, noted that FEMA rules will require that the new center be built one foot above the 100-year flood level, which Sina said would require an elevation of three to four feet from the existing ground level. Floodwaters reached to about 14 feet at the site in 2008.

Sina said construction hopefully can start on the project early in 2013 with the new center ready to open in the winter of 2013-2014.

City Council and task force member Monica Vernon noted on Friday that the latest plan for the northwest Cedar Rapids recreation center had been to put it right on Ellis Boulevard NW in a visible spot that would help attract commercial development to the busy street.

That plan, though, has fallen apart because of federal and state rules, which the city had agreed to after the flood, that restrict building on newly vacant land on which federal funds were used to buy out and demolish property.

The site in Time-Check Park, two blocks east of Ellis Boulevard NW, is available for the recreation center, if FEMA approves, because the park land was owned by the city before the flood.

Vernon noted that the site plan for the recreation center now features park land extending from Ellis Boulevard to the proposed site of the recreation center in Time-Check Park, which will help let people know that the recreation center is almost on the boulevard.

Linda Seger, a task force member and president of the Northwest Neighbors Neighborhood Association, said she and others had wanted the recreation center on Ellis, but getting it built was much more important now, she said.

The city continues to negotiate with the Iowa Economic Development Authority to try to get the state agency to permit the building of the recreation center on the buyout lots on Ellis Boulevard NW. If the state agency gives approval in upcoming weeks, the recreation center might yet move there.

A previous council had decided to build the recreation center on high ground in Ellis Park near the Time Check and Harrison Elementary School neighborhoods. However, some residents near the park and some in the neighborhoods objected, and the current council, with two new members, changed directions.
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