Great Bend City Administrator Howard Partington told a civic group Wednesday that improving recreational areas and events is a priority for the coming year. These include major changes at the Events Center.
He described several aspects of the city’s $24 million budget when he spoke to the Kiwanis Club.
City leaders nixed an architect’s suggestion to spend $5 million on the Events Center, but several improvements have been make. The original divider wall, which had become unsafe, was replaced. City employees painted walls, fixed ceiling tiles and replaced carpeting in the entry area.
A different architect, Don Mars, has been hired to come up with a more affordable plan for the building. More restrooms and other features are being considered.
“The front of the Events Center will become more accessible,” Partington said. At present, there are columns in front of the doors and people who can’t go up steps must go to the side. In the future, anyone should be able to come straight in through the front doors. This isn’t just an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance issue, Partington said. “It’s the right thing to do.”
The Great Bend Convention and Visitors Bureau office will move into the Events Center. “We’re going to put some windows in Conference Room A,” Partington said. “It will be the CVG office, which will be open during the week.” This will be helpful for anyone who wants to book the Events Center.
Starting on Jan. 1, 2016, the CVB staff will work for the city.
The Events Center also has several offices in the back of the building which are not being used. Coming up with a plan for that space could lead to a source of revenue for the city.
Partington commented on other recreation areas in the city:
• Water Park – At the annual Youth Academies, young people tell city leaders what they think the community needs. They want more features at the Wetlands Water Park, Partington said. “Kids talk about that more than anything.”
The original idea for a “Lazy River” feature is probably not going to materialize because of the cost to purchase and maintain one. Lately, the talk has been about a “toilet bowl water slide,” he said. “We’re going to poll the kids.”
• Stone Lake – “Stone Lake is a diamond in the rough.” Things that have been discussed for future development include a fishing jetty and stocking it with more fish.
• Brit Spaugh Park and Zoo – “We want to clean it up, and get more animals,” Partington said. A lot of people miss the bison that the zoo used to have. The city is looking at getting bison, deer or something like that.
Partington said he’s also had many complaints about the fence that now surrounds the zoo, which also cuts people off from part of the park. “The fence will move back to the north,” he said, adding people will again be able to sit by a pond without going into the zoo, which closes at 4:30 p.m. They’ll also be able to get within approximately 50 feet of the bear exhibit, he said.
Asked whether the city is giving up on becoming accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Partington acknowledged that, “It’s probably not worth the effort. They want you to triple the staff.”
With the departure of Zoo Director Nicole Benz, the city is now overseen by Park Supervisor Scott Keeler. “This zoo is a tremendous asset,” Partington said, adding it is an asset he and Keeler care about.
• Sports Complex – The master plan for the facility included football and soccer fields. “Maybe down the road,” he said.
• Veterans Memorial Park – There are plans for more restrooms at Vets Park, and efforts to clear up blue-green algae are beginning to work. The Kiwanis Club added the Fitness Trail to the park several years ago, and members are working with the city on plans to upgrade it.
• Municipal Auditorium – The last project was a $26,000 upgrade to the sound and lighting system. The Great Bend Recreation Commission contributed $5,000 toward the project.
• Band Shell – The Harms Trust funded a study on how to make the area south of the courthouse “more user friendly."