City finds parks department home

Chad Frey
The Kansan
City of Newton, Kansas.

A project to create a new home for the  Newton Parks Department stalled in 2019 when construction costs grew beyond what the city was ready to commit to construction of a building. 

At the time, the city chose to continue renting a facility for the department to house its self, and a seek a new solution. That solution presented its self this year, when the Kansas Department of Transportation began talking to the city about moving its maintenance facility on E. 12th Street. 

"They are leaving that location...  because over time all of their trucks and dump trucks that they use to spread salt have gotten larger and larger. ... They can't get their trucks into their bays any longer," said Suzanne Loomis, director of public works for the city of Newton. "... Our park mowers would fit just nicely in these bays."

On April 28, the city commission approved an agreement that will allow the city to take ownership of the KDOT shop, in exchange for that property the city will proved water, sewer mains and infrastructure for a new KDOT facility to be constructed on SW 14th at the intersection of Anderson Ave.  KDOT purchased the property several years ago.

The 12th street property touches Centennial Park, and contains multiple buildings that are, according to Loomis, well suited for the parks department. 

"KDOT seriously began pursing the development of the land in 2020," Loomis said. "They went through the annexation process and  rezoning process last year and now they are going through tthe platting process, which is the final process before pulling a building permit."

Part of that process is committing to the extension of city utilities and imrpove roads to accommodate increased traffic. That means an additional water main and sewer services, and an additional turning lane at the intersection.

The cost of those projects is estimated at about $460,000. The city has entered an agreement to pay $403,000 of those improvements, in exchange for the property on E. 12th.

"So, we pay $403,000, realistically for this KDOT building, and if there are improvements to be made .... put that number in, as opposed to a $4 million building, or a $2.5 million building ... That makes common sense," said Leroy Koehn, city commissioner. "... It is far cheaper than paying for a $4 million building." 

Koehn said that using the more than $50,000 now being paid in lease fees, this deal is a "10 year payoff" for the city. 

"This seems like a win for everybody," said commission Clint McBroom. 

The city will do an environmental inspection of the 12th street facility, and can walk away from the property and deal if need be. 

The city is currently leasing a property for the parks department at a cost of $3,000 per month, and the payment of $15,000 in taxes each year. The lease rate will go up to $3,100 next year. 

The 2019 project to build a new facility came in with an eliminated cost of $4.2 million with more than $1 million for site preparation for a property owned by the city on South Boyd Ave. 

"It was well more than the $2.5 million we had budgeted," Loomis said. 

The plat on SW 14th is expected to go to the planning commission in May.  KDOT expects to begin construction this year, with completion in 2022 or 2023.