In its last meeting before formally sharing its recommendations with the Maumelle City Council the task force did just that Monday night sitting across from almost of City Council members in the Maumelle Senior Wellness Center.
Maumelle engineer and planning commission member Craig Johnson served as chair of the group and led Monday night’s discussion.
Although the public was invited to attend, Johnson started the meeting indicating that the discussion would be between task force members and the council. He said audience members wouldn’t be allowed to speak but they would have amble opportunity at the City Council meeting to speak for or against any issue.
He told the public to reserve its comments for upstairs in the council chambers.
Johnson was flanked by task force members John Todd, Chair of the Planning Commission, Alderman Caleb Norris, Bill Arnold, Phil Bullington, Karen Lamoreaux and Gloria Timmons. Alderman Burch Johnson and Victor Werner were absent from the meeting.
In a reversal of stated policy, audience members were allowed to ask questions once task force members and council members had a chance to have all of their questions answered and to make statements they deemed worthy.
One uncomfortable situation arose when Maumelle resident Jan Bullington strayed from what Johnson thought was a question to campaigning for an aquatic center.
Johnson interrupted her and asked that she reserve her comments for the next City Council meeting.
Several members of the Maumelle High School swim team were in attendance but complained they had to leave early to attend training at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Without a local year around pool to practice in, team members said they have to practice wherever they can at whatever time facilities are available.
Adam Hazen said, “How ironic was it tonight that the Maumelle High school swim team was in attendance to show their support for an indoor aquatic center, yet they had to leave 30 minutes in because they had to drive to UALR for swim practice because that is all that Coach Mark Bugg could get to practice at?”
Another parent said she had to leave early to pick up her son from swim team practice at the North Little Rock Boys and Girls Club.
Hearing was difficult for people in the back of the room. Johnson had a single microphone that he used but attendees complained that those council members in the back couldn’t always here the entire conversation.
Many council members spoke back and forth in normal tones that were indistinguishable at times.
Mayor Mike Watson said the recommendations would be presented to the council at its next meeting on Feb. 3 but no action is expected that night. He said the public would be given an opportunity to comment on the recommendations.
The Task Force has held eight meetings, Johnson said, beginning last August with two meetings each month.
Johnson said the purpose of the Monday night meeting was to review a Jan. 20 memo to the mayor and to focus on the recommendations.
He said the mission of the task force was established in their Sept. 5 meeting last year. It read, “Provide a recommendation to the City Council for the consideration of potential capital improvement projects that would be funded under the current property tax millage obligation that benefits the citizens of Maumelle.”
The recommended projects include in priority:
1. $1 million to construct a Maumelle Boulevard pedestrian underpass.
The purpose is to give pedestrians and bicyclists a safer alternative to cross Maumelle Boulevard but members said they had no site in mind and that they would have to study where it would best serve the public, but two possible sites were listed: Odom Boulevard South and Maumelle Boulevard; Millwood Drive and Maumelle Boulevard.
Alderman Ken Saunders asked if golf carts would be allowed to use the underpass.
During discussion it became evident plans are still up in the air for what the Task Force deemed the most important project. The plans could include an underground passage or an above ground or overpass above the traffic connection.
2. New Maumelle Senior Wellness Centers. Cost; $4.465,126.
Johnson said the current space doesn’t allow room for growth and if the senior center was moved to a new site, the current space could be used to consolidate more city operations at the city hall location. Built in 2004, the current site has limited parking and is hard to navigate, he said.
Plans are to expand the center to what was planned in 2004, 13,500 square feet rather than half of that amount which is what they currently have.
The increased space would not only allow the center to serve more people but would also allow the expansion of programs because their wouldn’t be the space limitation that exits today.
3. Completion of the Softball complex that would add additional fields, including two T-Ball fields.
Johnson said currently the ball complex is turning people away and scheduling games late at night. Last year 91 teams were turned down from tournaments hosted at the site.
4. $2.625,000 to remodel City Hall to bring in the courts and staff. Johnson said the City Council and courts would have to share to same facility but plans are to expand the current chambers to add more seating and room for growth. The only issue would be a scheduling problem, Johnson said.
5. An aquatic center would cost $6,329,963.
Although it made the cut of suggested projects, many in attendance wanted to see an aquatics center in a higher priority slot so it gets done. Parents talked about having to carry their children who are on the swim team to various sites around central Arkansas to practice where they can find an availability. The center that’s proposed is smaller than what was discussed earlier in the process, Johnson said.
Although the recommendations will be presented to the City Council nest week, Mayor Mike Watson said it will take some time to make a final determination about what could be done and what couldn’t.
He did say that because of the funding program and budgets, projects need to start shortly after approved because otherwise the price of construction will overtake the construction funding.
He said waiting a couple of years mighty be permissible but not much longer. He said every project includes plans for a possible ten percent cost overrun.