ARTICLE

C.R. council signs off on site in flood plain for new rec center

Most council members say site is worth the risk

City Council member Monica Vernon (from left) and Joe O'Hern, City Flood Recovery and Reinvestment director, look over property maps at the J Ave NW and Ellis Blvd NW location as members of the Northwest Recreation Center Task Force take a bus tour of the five possible sites for a new recreation center in Cedar Rapids on Thursday morning, February 23, 2012. (Stephen Mally/Freelance)
City Council member Monica Vernon (from left) and Joe O'Hern, City Flood Recovery and Reinvestment director, look over property maps at the J Ave NW and Ellis Blvd NW location as members of the Northwest Recreation Center Task Force take a bus tour of the five possible sites for a new recreation center in Cedar Rapids on Thursday morning, February 23, 2012. (Stephen Mally/Freelance)

CEDAR RAPIDS — The City Council last night shifted gears from the council that preceded it and backed a plan to spend public money to build in the 100-year flood plain.

On an 8-0 vote, council members approved a site at Ellis Boulevard and J Avenue NW for a new facility to replace the flood-ruined Time Check Recreation Center.

Member Scott Olson emphasized, though, that the council still must learn if federal officials will let them use federal disaster funds to build in the flood plain, and it also must see how much more the $3.5 million project might cost if built there.

If the Federal Emergency Management Agency signs off on the site, the city will be required to elevate the new building a foot above the 100-year flood plain. That will require about four feet of fill, recreation Superintendent Sven Leff told the council last night.

The city says that would cost about $50,000 range, and Leff said the facility’s heating and air conditioning systems can be installed above the 14-foot water level seen in the Floods of 2008. Some council members also talked about putting parking on the lower level.

A former City Hall site-selection task force had picked three potential sites for the new recreation, all in or next to Ellis Park and all above the level of the 2008 flood.

The current nine-member council — with new members Olson and Ann Poe, who said in their campaigns last fall that they would look outside of Ellis Park for a recreation center site — created a new task force that earlier this month picked the Ellis Boulevard at J Avenue NW site. Five of the nine council members, including Olson and Poe, are on the task force.

Poe said building a new recreation center on Ellis Boulevard NW, the main artery through the flood-hit parts of northwest Cedar Rapids, was “key to stabilizing that neighborhood.”

The selected site will connect to the existing Time Check Park, which had been home to the neighborhood’s former recreation center. It was ruined in the flood and has been demolished.

Olson, Poe, Monica Vernon, Don Karr and Chuck Swore all said they were not ready to abandon the commercial prospects for Ellis Boulevard NW, much of which is in the 100-year flood plain, just because voters this month rejected a measure to provide local funds for a flood protection system. Several said they hadn’t given up on flood protection either.

Karr said he had “no problem building in the 100-year flood plain,” while Vernon said the “calculated risk” of building in the 100-year flood plain was better than the risk of abandoning a neighborhood.

Council member Kris Gulick, though, questioned taking that risk without a “clear path” to flood protection.

“I think it’s not very good public policy to build a public facility in the 100-year flood plain without flood protection in sight,” he said.

He voted with the majority, though, after Olson noted that the council will have more votes to cast before the center is built.

The residential neighborhood around the site — but outside the 100-year flood plain and outside the construction zone for a new flood protection system — is being targeted for new homes as part of a City Hall initiative using federal incentives to replace homes lost to the flooding.In addition, council members this month expressed support for extending Ellis Boulevard NW to Sixth Street SW to make it easier to get to Ellis Boulevard and the neighborhood around it.

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