Pickleball has become popular locally. Here, players volley at the Cedar Falls Recreation Center in this file 2017 photo.

CEDAR FALLS — Space in the Cedar Falls Recreation and Fitness Center is too limited to adequately serve the needs of the community, according to a consultant hired by the city.

Expansion at the current location of 110 E. 13th S. is possible, a usage study of the center says, “with proper planning and minor land acquisition.”

“Your facility could be close to twice as large” at that site, said Jack Patton of RDG Planning and Design, who presented the study to the City Council’s committee of the whole earlier this week. This would allow for creation of more areas dedicated to specific purposes. The lack of those spaces was one criticism of the center in focus groups of Cedar Falls residents.

“It’s in the heart of the community,” Patton said, noting the center’s access to major streets and highways. “It’s a great address.” Expansion would be aided by proposed changes to 12th Street and Waterloo Road, adjoining the property.

The study, approved by the council in May, was developed by RDG of Des Moines and Colorado-based Ballard/King & Associates in consultation with city staff. Focus groups including 31 participants were one way input was gathered from the community. There was also a town hall meeting attended by 50 people and an online survey where 1,855 responses were collected.

First opened in 1993, the center was expanded in 2005. Built on 3.05 acres, it is currently 48,000 square feet in size. Expanding to 98,000 square feet would require 3.9 acres, according to the study. A concept design for a redeveloped block included in the document indicates that there would be 4.4 acres available.

“Several spaces need to be improved and expanded,” said Patton, based on the community input. Among those are areas for the gymnasium, personal training, group exercise, locker rooms, the lobby and the games room. People are interested in new space for purposes of functional fitness, a swimming pool, a whirlpool spa, and a multipurpose poolside room for classes or party rental.

Some of those were identified as people’s top uses or interests at the center. Other important functions for participants are the walking/jogging track, drop-in activity spaces, weights and fitness area.

On the topic of aquatics, Patton noted there are different designs depending on whether a leisure or competitive pool is built. “Both are equally important for the aquatic community in different ways,” he said. Currently the recreation center partners with Cedar Falls’ two junior high schools to provide pool access for its members, but school district officials have indicated those aging facilities may be replaced at a new high school.

The existing lobby basically amounts to a passageway into the center, said Patton. People need “a place to stop or gather or pause.”

Some changes would better serve senior citizens, children under 16 and families with child care needs, according to the input.

In terms of caring for children while people use the center, “the space that exists today is undersized,” said Patton, and should provide more opportunities for children to do physical activities. He noted such services are “not always a money maker.”

Information gathered from residents suggests the facility is constantly in the position “of not quite having what you need,” he added. “This is not a discussion to sell anyone space, but to recognize what we heard.”

A market analysis cited in the study shows the Cedar Valley has room for growth in fitness options, including the areas lacking at the recreation center. The study noted its membership and rates have been flat in recent years as the cost of operations have increased, pointing to a need for improvements. Among survey respondents, 55% agreed or strongly agreed they would be willing to pay a “reasonable increase” in fees related to expansion and higher operational costs.

At this point, Mayor Jim Brown said, locker room improvements are the only item funded in the city’s capital improvements program. The study will return to the council at a future meeting, where members will be asked to accept it. The document would serve as a guide for any future improvements.

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