Leander voters could decide on city improvements

Included in Leanderu2019s bond task force committee recommendations for a possible bond package is the completion of master plan improvements to Lakewood Community Park. These include adding a wildlife viewing area, splash pad, an off-leash dog park, a skate park and picnic pavilions.

Included in Leanderu2019s bond task force committee recommendations for a possible bond package is the completion of master plan improvements to Lakewood Community Park. These include adding a wildlife viewing area, splash pad, an off-leash dog park, a skate park and picnic pavilions.

Leander could receive new amenities, such as transportation improvements and new parks, a senior center, and a possible recreation center if City Council decides to call for a spring bond election.


Council members have until Feb. 18 to call for a May election, and voters would then decide which city projects to approve.


Since October, Leander bond committee members have been discussing potential projects. On Jan. 26 the committee approved its list of prioritized projects for the bond package recommendation, many of which heavily favor parks and transportation.


“We are not [having a bond election] at an end result of a tax increase,” Council Member Shanan Shepherd said.


At a Jan. 26 bond task force committee meeting, YMCA representatives revealed market study findings about whether an area facility would be feasible and supported by residents.


After hearing the presentation from the YMCA, the committee decided it did not have enough information to add it to the list of project priorities. However, council could still decide to include it in a spring bond package.[polldaddy poll=9310686]



Bond package recommendations


The bond committee comprises 9 members, including three City Council members; Leander business owners; and Bridget Brandt, Leander Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Center president.


The top-ranked project among the committee’s recommendations is an extension of Metro Drive from its current location at the Leander Park & Ride Rail Station to Mel Mathis Boulevard, according to committee documents. Construction would begin in July and would be complete in September 2017.


Improvements to Raider Way and East Woodview Drive are also included in transportation recommendations. A project would widen both roads and add improvements, such as curbs, gutters, storm sewers, street lighting, water-quality facilities and sidewalks. Modifications would also be made to the traffic signal at Crystal Falls Parkway and Raider Way.


The committee also recommended several parks improvements, including the master plan build-out for Lakewood Community Park, which would receive amenities such as a playscape, splash pad, skate park, basketball and volleyball courts, and an off-leash dog park, according to committee documents. Construction could begin in June 2017 and end in June 2018.


If council approves the priorities list, the remaining master plan improvements to Veterans Park would be made, including a labyrinth garden, a military wall of honor, new benches and landscaping. Since October 2015, more than $35,000 has been raised to construct the park, according to city documents.


An 18,500 square-foot senior center is the fourth-most important priority included in the recommendations and would be built on city-owned land adjacent to the public works property on Municipal Drive. The project would also involve a partnership among the city, Williamson-Burnet County Opportunities and a private investor. The existing senior center on Bagdad Road would relocate to the new property.


If City Council decides to call a bond election, the committee will reconvene, likely in March, to discuss its strategy for informing the community, committee Chairman Eric Johnson said.


“Once we submit this list of priorities to the council, this team’s responsibility will be to go and market [and] sell this to the community so that they understand exactly what this is,” Johnson said. “We are the outreach to the community, and that’s going to be our duty.”


Leander Fire Chief Bill Gardner said part of his job is to ensure the safety and health of residents, which are factors to consider with new facilities that could be included in a bond package, he said.


“Every project listed [in the recommendations] … had something for someone in this community,” Gardner said. “The [recreation] center, the senior center, transportation and parks—and we can do that without a tax rate increase. … Every time we add a facility for our senior population, our kids and our families, we are making them healthier.”



YMCA study findings


In September the city of Leander approached the YMCA about a possible feasibility study for a facility.


The discussion prompted the YMCA to sign a letter of intent in November to conduct a feasibility study with FourSquare Market Research Inc. YMCA of Greater Williamson County, Austin Community College, the city of Leander and Leander ISD are all potential partners for the project.


The study included a phone survey of 600 area residents, 200 of which were  existing YMCA members at Twin Lakes in Cedar Park. Two sites are being considered for the potential facility: a property owned by LISD at Halsey Drive and San Gabriel Parkway, and the site of the future ACC campus. Jeff Andresen, CEO of YMCA of Greater Williamson County, said FourSquare determined the future ACC campus as the recommended site.


Johnson said the ACC site makes more sense because of its proximity to the “transportation hub” at Capital Metro’s Leander Station and Toll 183A. Shepherd agreed.


The study revealed if a new YMCA was built, many current members in Cedar Park would move over to Leander. Of the two sites studied, the LISD-owned property resulted in less membership “cannibalization,” or switch-over.


Andresen presented findings Jan. 26 from the study, which revealed an overwhelming amount of support from residents, citing 12.7 percent of households expressed an interest in a Leander YMCA facility, compared with the national average of 4.5 percent.


“Your community expressed a 12.7 percent interest in a YMCA,” Andresen said. “That is off the charts.”


Andresen said a typical YMCA operates with a revenue mix of membership fees, which make up 60 percent of its revenue, and child care, which makes up 40 percent of its revenue.


More than 60 percent of the YMCAs built in the U.S. are accomplished through a partnership between the YMCA and a municipality, hospital, school district or developer, Andresen said.


If a city decides to build a YMCA without a partnership, taxpayers pay to construct, operate and maintain the facility. Collaboration between agencies allows the YMCA to bear the cost of maintaining the center, Andresen said.  A 20-year operating agreement with the city of Leander could save taxpayers $21,738,000, he said.


Leander City Manager Kent Cagle said the city received cost estimates for a possible YMCA from American Constructors and Chasco Constructors. Both agencies came up with a probable cost of $12 million to replicate Twin Lakes. The estimate does not include design fees and inflation costs for construction, he said. Construction would begin in three to five years if ultimately approved by voters in May, he said.


The cost of a YMCA might increase if the LISD-owned property is chosen because the city may be required to purchase a small portion of the 10 acres needed, which could bring the total cost to $18 million, Cagle said.


“Any time that you can bring a group of people together and … set the destiny of where we go as a city is why this country is great,” Gardner said. “You … get a chance to direct where [resident] dollars are going. That’s why this city grows.”

By Lyndsey Taylor
After graduating from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Lyndsey began working as a reporter for the Northwest Austin edition of Community Impact Newspaper in 2012. During her time as a reporter, she has covered Round Rock ISD, health care in the Austin metro area and Austin Community College. She was promoted to editor of the Cedar Park| Leander edition in 2015 and covers city and education news, including Leander ISD.


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