Recent and proposed renovations to the YMCA, library and community building show city’s commitment to keeping services downtown

The McPherson City Commission’s recent decision to place a half-cent special sales tax question on the April 7, 2009, ballot for improvements on the community building at the corner of Marlin and Ash streets is the latest in a string of renovations in the downtown area.
The renovation and expansion of the McPherson YMCA on Walnut Street is under way, the McPherson Public Library expansion is almost complete and renovation of the McPherson Opera House is expected to be complete sometime in 2009.
While each project is unique in its funding and scope, they all share the desire to remain an integral part of the McPherson downtown core.
YMCA Executive Director Gwyn Muto said years of discussion, focus groups and a telephone survey by a firm in Wichita factored into the Y’s decision to stay downtown.
“The message we received was that the public definitely wanted to keep it downtown,” Muto said.
A study of the fund-raising potential for an expansion of the Y also made it clear raising the $8-12 million needed for a new facility was not feasible. Donations are still needed for the Y’s renovation and can be made by contacting Muto at 241-0363.
The library’s expansion at its present location on Marlin Street was the clear preference of Library Director Steve Read and library board members.
“Having the library downtown is a drawing card. It’s where the action is. We also like the proximity to the courthouse. People who do research at there find it convenient having the library just across the street,” Read said.
The library expanded onto property it already owned and that was also a plus for Read, who said they never explored the costs of a new building.
The library expansion is funded by a half-cent special sales tax that the public approved in 2007 and is expected to expire in fall/winter of 2010.
John Holecek, McPherson Opera House Co. director of development, said he believes strongly in keeping services downtown.
“The downtown of any city is its heart and soul. To not have a vital downtown is the beginning of the end for most cities,” Holecek said.
The Opera House auditorium renovation is the last phase of construction and Holecek is hopeful a donor will come forward with the $2 million needed to finish the project, which could be complete by late 2009 if funds are available.
Community building study committee members were in agreement while putting together a recommendation to the city commission that the community building should stay in the core area, according to spokesperson Dave Chartier.
The committee, which was originally formed four years ago, was split on whether renovation of the present building or building a new facility was the best solution.
Commissioner Bob Moore, who asked the committee to become active again after he took office in 2007, said the building is in definite need of repair and feels it is not being utilized to its full potential. Improvements such as air conditioning and better heating would make the building more accomodating.
Taking the committee’s input, local architect Andy Steffes drew up plans that include eliminating the auditorium and converting the building into two mult-purpose rooms that could be used as courts for basketball or indoor tennis. The McPherson Recreation Commission has agreed to manage the facility.
“The plans we had Andy Steffes draw up are preliminary plans. We plan to have some public input sessions or people can call me with their recommendations,” Moore said.
City Manager Gary Meagher said while there are no public input sessions planned yet, he expects there will be after the first of the year. He would also like to see the commission open up the building and give tours to the public to highlight the need for the renovation.
Moore and Meagher both realize the limitations of being able to come up with a plan that will please all parties.
Moore has heard input that a bigger kitchen would be wanted to accomodate functions like the Kiwanis pancake feed and community Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, but is skeptical on whether a full-kitchen is needed.
“I would like to see the actual cooking taking place off-premises,” Moore said.
Other suggestions so far are to use an all-purpose flooring material that can accomodate many sports.
Main Street Executive Director Ann Engel and Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jennifer Burch have contacted the commissioners and requested their input be taken into consideration when drafting a plan.
“I’m a little disappointed the people who actually use the facility weren’t included in the study group,” Engel said.
Engel would like to see the building renovated in a way that it could accomodate large meeting groups, but Moore said making a convention facility downtown was never part of the scope of the project.
“A convention facility should be out by the hotels to keep it accessible,” Moore said.
A copy of the preliminary floor plan for the community building is included online with this article at Keep reading The Sentinel to find out the dates for public input sessions as they become available.