By ROBERT PIERCE
• Daily Leader
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a series of articles regarding a meeting of leaders and citizens Thursday to discuss the need for a community center in Liberal.
A community center has been on the wish list of projects for Liberal residents for years, and Thursday, a group of local leaders and citizens took another step in the direction of getting a facility for the community.
Elizabeth Irby, who was part of the 2007 Leadership Liberal class which proposed raising $20,000 towards building a new rec center, gave an overview of the history of the project, starting with the building of the current Blue Bonnet Park facility in the 1970s.
“In the 1980s, there was a proposal of a new facility taken to the city commission,” she said. “In the 1990s, a youth center expansion plan was proposed. In 1992 and 1993, there was a community block grant availability, and they looked at that to see if that could help them.”
In May 1993, Irby said a Community Leader Planning Retreat took place, and this was the start of the Focus on the Future committee.
“In November 1993, the Focus group presented the report from the community to the city commission of their needs,” she said. “In the next few years, city and National Guard came together towards a joint youth facility.”
Irby said plans were drawn up for such a center, but they were put aside, and funding was used for other projects. Then in June 2000, groups brought together by Focus on the Future identified a community center as the number one need for Liberal.
“In October 2001, the 1-cent sales tax was renewed,” she said. “It had started in 1993. In December 2001, the Liberal Community Center Foundation was proposed to the city commission. In 2006, there was another proposal.”
The tax is up for renewal again this November, and Irby said people in the community are feeling they want the tax to continue, but they want a percentage to go to a rec center.
Liberal Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Rozelle Webb said what has kept the project from happening in the past is not having a city manager and city commissioners on board with the project.
“I think there were so many projects to do, and that would take up so much of the total amount of taxes,” she said. “Today, we have a city manager who is for it. Today, I think we have commissioners who will be for it.”
Webb said this year’s campaign for renewal of the 1-cent sales tax will be different than the one that took place 10 years ago. Starting next Thursday, Focus on the Future will host five town hall meetings at the Rock Island Depot, and Webb is inviting everyone to come.
“We want you to tell us that you want this community center,” she said. “We’re going to get everyone’s input on the project that they want. They’re going to set dollar amounts to the project and then do the percentages so that things can work better.”
Webb said the future for looks bright for both the 1-cent sales tax and the community center.
“I think this next one will be so much better,” she said. “I think we’ll get more of what we want. This project has done amazing things for Liberal.”