Council agrees to sports complex study

Iola City Council members agreed to pay half of a $30,000 design study to address flooding and ballfield improvements at Riverside Park. The Council also appointed Benedikt Middleton to a vacant seat in Ward 4.


Local News

July 9, 2024 - 3:26 PM

Mayor Steve French discusses the next steps in the Riverside Park’s flood mitigation project. Photo by Sarah Haney / Iola Register

Iola city council members decided at Monday evening’s meeting to forge ahead with Phase 2 of a flood mitigation plan. The scope of Mammoth Sports Construction’s proposed $3.733 million project includes an artificial turf softball, baseball and football field in Riverside Park that will help store flood waters during a major storm event. Phase 2 of the project comes at a cost of $30,000 and will include design and pre-construction services with Mammoth developing base construction and permit documents.

Prior to approving, some council members had questions about the price tag. Council member Josiah D’Albini stated that he remembered going forward with Phase 1 because there was no cost. 

Mayor Steve French and council member Joelle Shallah both pointed out that the cost had been discussed at the previous meeting. “Council member Jon Wells brought that up and was feeling the waters on splitting the cost with USD 257,” said Shallah. “It was not voted on because we waited to see what the district did.” Immediately following the previous council meeting, USD 257 had agreed to foot half of the $30,000 bill, leaving the remaining $15,000 for the city to cover if they approved.

“I think the whole project needs to be in a bid situation,” said council member Kim Peterson. “Are we 100% going with Mammoth, or is it going to bid?” French explained that Mammoth is handling the bids for the construction phase of the project. “They will act like a general contractor,” he said.

Phase 2, however, does not include construction. That is in Phase 3, according to City Administrator Matt Rehder. “The next step after Phase 2, would be actually doing it,” said Rehder.

Shallah added that approving Phase 2 doesn’t commit the city to working with Mammoth beyond that. She noted that a lot of the future steps in the project will hinge on whether they receive a $20 million Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Community Change Grant. “We are hopeful the grant would encompass at least 75% to 80% of this cost,” she said. 

The grant is earmarked for environmental and climate justice initiatives for disadvantaged communities. Thrive Deputy Director Jessica Thompson notes that the city should know in a “few months” whether they have been awarded the grant. “They are taking applications as they are being submitted,” Thompson said. “If the city doesn’t get it, they have a chance to reapply. It could be up to November before anything happens.”

Benedikt Middleton was named council member for Ward 4.Photo by Sarah Haney / Iola Register

IN OTHER NEWS, the council heard from Benedikt Middleton and Diana Dashnaw — two potential candidates to fill the vacant Ward 4 seat on the council. A motion was made to approve Middleton as the new council member and resulted in a split vote. French became the deciding vote and approved Middleton as the new council member. D’Albini, Nicholas Lohman, and Max Grundy were the only dissenters. Middleton has been a citizen of Iola for 59 years and currently serves on the Planning Commission and Zoning Appeals Board.

Council members tabled a request for a sidewalk installation at 524 N. Cottonwood St. until they can receive more bids and find out if grant funds may be utilized. Tristan and Shayla Robinson requested that the city install a sidewalk in front of their house, at no cost to them. The location in question is used often by students walking to and from school. In a letter to the city on Aug. 22, 2023, USD 257 Superintendent Stacey Fager had stressed the need for a sidewalk south of the Lincoln and Cottonwood intersection to ensure student safety. “I have personally witnessed countless students utilizing Cottonwood Street in absence of a sidewalk in this area, especially in adverse weather conditions, putting both their safety and the safety of vehicle operators at risk,” said Fager.

Council member Nicholas Lohman states that it’s “glaringly obvious” that having a sidewalk installed on Cottonwood Street could benefit a lot of people. Photo by Sarah Haney / Iola Register

“Is this something that we could collaborate with Thrive or USD 257?” asked Shallah during the discussion. “Fingers crossed, this potential $20 million grant that Thrive is assisting us in writing, could also include this.” 

Assistant City Administrator Corey Schinstock clarified that one of the legs of the grant is specifically for sidewalk replacements. “Yes, it could potentially fix this situation if we get awarded the grant,” he said.

Lohman added that the sidewalk would be important for wheelchair access, as well. He stated this is a pervasive problem throughout town that has resulted in frustration for many citizens. “You have to map out places you can go,” he said. “You can be going along and all of a sudden there’s no sidewalk. It’s glaringly obvious that having a sidewalk could benefit a lot of people.”

Closing out the meeting, department heads Mike Phillips, Mitch Phillips, Jim Baker, Toby Ross, and Jason Bauer gave brief budget presentations to the council. This included the electric generation and distribution, water production and distribution, wastewater treatment and collection, gas distribution and recreation departments.

Department heads Jim Baker, Jason Bauer, Toby Ross, Mike Phillips and Mitch Phillips share a laugh following their budget presentations to the Iola City Council Monday evening. Photo by Sarah Haney / Iola Register

“There’s a lot of knowledge in this room,” French said about the department heads as the budget presentations came to a close. “That is the City of Iola right there. They represent a lot of years of service and I really appreciate their in-depth knowledge and dedication to their jobs.” 

Shallah agreed, noting she appreciates that the department heads treat their budget as if they were their own home budgets. “They are very mindful of how they are taking care of the city’s money,” she said.