he on again, off again proposed joint community center project in Platte City is off again, as the two potential partners seem far apart on an agreement.
The community center that has been proposed as a partnership between Platte County and the Platte County R-3 School District appears to be a longshot at this point. County officials are indicating if an agreement isn’t reached with the school, the county will look at other land options in Platte City for a smaller scale center.
That was the general mood from both sides this week after county commissioners responded in writing to a recent offer made in the form of a resolution passed by the school board in June. The county had a cool response to the school’s offer, and at least one county official says much of that cold response can be aimed at the school’s insistence on including a cold water pool in the project.
Though both sides say they haven’t declared the negotiating process dead, the county made it clear it has other options for land in Platte City on which it could build a community center it deems to be more affordable.
School officials last month said including the pool is a necessity for them to go forward on a project with the county. Carey Rolofson, school board president, at the time said the pool was “a deal-breaker,” meaning it is a non-negotiable item as far as the school is concerned.
“I think Carey Rolofson said it right: the pool is a deal-breaker,” Steve Wegner, second district county commissioner, told The Landmark this week.
The county has offered $6 million to the joint project, with that money coming from the county’s half cent sales tax for parks.
“If we build an 8-lane pool, it’s going to use up the $6 million, from everything I’ve heard,” Wegner said.
“The cold water pool is a huge concern. It is expensive to operate and expensive to build,” Wegner remarked.
“I don’t think we can build what R-3 wants with a $6 million investment from the county,” he added.
In a motion approved in June, the R-3 Board of Education agreed to the partnership only if the new center consists of, at a minimum, “an 8-lane competitive indoor cold-water pool, a fitness center, an indoor walking/running track, a regulation size practice gym and six outdoor tennis courts.”
The center would be built on acreage near the Northland Career Center on the school’s main campus along Hwy. 92 in Platte City.
Rolofson and Superintendent Dr. Mark Harpst met with the local media this week to discuss the school’s reaction to the county’s letter. Initially, both said they felt the county’s letter was “inappropriate” and “condescending.”
Later, after talking with Wegner and Michael Short, first district county commissioner, Harpst said he could better understand the county’s response, though he wasn’t ready to agree with it.
“Both parties feel they have been offended at this point,” Harpst said Tuesday night. “They’re trying to do what’s right for their constituents and we’re trying to do what’s right for the school district,” he said.
“Everybody’s heart is in the right place. It (the partnership) just might not be a doable thing,” the superintendent added.
“They’re reasonable people. They felt like the board’s motion was too demanding,” Harpst continued.
Wegner stated he feels the school needs to offer some cash for the deal to be able to work. Harpst isn’t sure that can happen.
“I don’t want to speak for the school board, but it’s hard to pump a lot of cash into something that’s not a current top priority,” he said, adding an 8-lane pool and other improvements would be nice but are not classified by the district as top priorities at the present time.
Harpst said the top priority for substantial district cash is building classroom space.
The superintendent said he feels the county is underestimating the school’s in-kind offers of usage of school facilities to the county. He said the school has offered the use of the auditorium, the Career Center and classroom space to the county, on an as-available basis.
The value of the land the school has offered is between $1.5 million and $2.2 million, school officials have said.
“I’m disappointed it appears we can’t complete the project,” Rolofson said Tuesday morning, adding he would have preferred to have some verbal discussions with the county before receiving the written response given to the school on Monday.
Neither side seems optimistic a joint deal will get done.
“We haven’t closed the door,” Wegner said. “But we thought from various conversations the school was asking for more out of us than we could afford. If they still want some of those things they were wanting they’re going to have to step up a level or two—or three,” he said.
“If we can’t afford to build this one, then we either have to not build a facility in Platte City or we can find land and built a facility that we can manage and operate at a level that’s not going to cause us financial problems,” Wegner added.
It has been the intent that the Kansas City chapter of the YMCA would operate and maintain the center. Wegner insisted the YMCA had no input on the county’s reaction to the school’s proposal.
“The YMCA was not involved in this decision at all,” he said.
County officials were offended by the school’s insistence of a default provision for possible future abandonment of the facility.
“We suggest you consider the incorporation of the county in 1839 as proof of our long-term viability,” the county commissioners said in a letter to Harpst.
The entire text of that letter, dated Monday, July 22 and signed by Wegner, Short and Presiding Commissioner Betty Knight, is as follows:
“After due consideration of the Platte County R-3 School Board proposal to establish a “partnership” with the county to develop a community center on school property, we are unable to accept the terms presented. It was a great disappointment to learn that our months of good faith discussions could not have produced a more meaningful offer from the district.
“The conditions imposed on the project in terms of the proposed location, required elements that are low priority and not supported by market research, and lack of funding support from the district for the construction or operation of the facility are unacceptable. Further, regarding the proposed ‘default provision for future abandonment,’ we suggest you consider the incorporation of the county in 1839 as proof of our long term viability.
“Please advise if the school board should reconsider the terms of its offer. The Platte County Commission stands ready to resume realistic discussions for mutual benefit,” the letter concluded.
Rolofson said the topic would not be on the agenda for the school board’s next meeting in August, but that board members would be free to bring it up in their individual remarks during the course of that meeting.
Rolofson also said the pool and other items that had been planned to be included in the community center could now get pushed back into the school’s five to 10 year strategic plan.
Wegner said he would prefer a meeting with county officials and the entire school board present, rather than having to work through a school district appointed negotiating team of Harpst and Rolofson.
“I’d rather talk to the decision-makers directly,” Wegner said.
No further talks have been scheduled at this point.
“The general attitude seems to be to let things settle for a little bit and visit in a few weeks,” Harpst said.