Youth futsal courts proposed throughout Wyandotte County

Futsal courts at Wyandotte High School were dedicated July 30, 2013, before the MLS All-Star game in Kansas City, Kan. Tonight, the Unified Government heard a proposal from Sporting Kansas City to build eight more futsal courts in Wyandotte County. (File photo by Mary Rupert)

Sporting Kansas City tonight presented a proposal for futsal courts all over Wyandotte County.

Instead of building three youth soccer fields as called for in an earlier agreement with the Unified Government, the MLS soccer team in Kansas City, Kan., has proposed converting eight existing tennis courts into futsal courts.

Futsal is a form of soccer played on a smaller hard-surfaced court, and is very popular as a youth sport in other countries.

When the project is completed, it would bring the number of futsal courts here to 10, including the two courts at Wyandotte High School that went on display during the MLS All-Star week here last summer.

The proposal from Sporting Kansas City was worked out in negotiations between the soccer team and the Unified Government Parks and Recreation Department, according to information presented at the UG Economic Development Standing Committee meeting tonight.

Greg Cotton, chief of staff for Sporting Kansas City, said this futsal project not only fits in with the Healthy Communities goal, it also gives Sporting and its partners in this project the chance to join together in the project.

The partners in the project, besides Sporting KC, include the U.S. Soccer Federation, U.S. Youth Futsal, Heartland Soccer Association, and Padrino Premier Soccer League.

The partners will come together to offer programs with the futsal courts, including league play, district tournaments and a championship tournament to be held here, he said.

There are Saturday instructional youth clinics planned. Also planned is the U.S. Youth Futsal Youth Academy, an invitation-only group for high-performing youth in the community. There also will be free play time on the courts.

“The goal is to encourage a healthy lifestyle for our youth in safe community parks so that the kids can play after school,” said David Ficklin, vice president of development at Sporting KC. Many children won’t need a ride to the fields complex to play soccer.

Some proposed locations are on the bus line, while others are in the middle of neighborhoods.

“The greatest soccer players grew up playing futsal,” Ficklin said. “In Spain and Brazil, futsal is predominant sport kids play when they are growing up.”

Sporting KC introduced futsal courts to Wyandotte County last July just before the MLS All-Star game in Kansas City, Kan. The new futsal courts at Wyandotte County were an MLS community service project.

“We had no idea the neighborhood would love it so much,” Ficklin said. “We would paint the surface, go home, and the kids would hop over the fence and start playing on it.”

The kids in the neighborhood have really taken good care of the courts, he added.

Kelli Mather, chief financial officer for the Kansas City, Kan., Public Schools, said the Wyandotte High futsal courts are used constantly by the physical education class, the soccer team, and the community children. There have been no problems at the courts, she added.

“This has been a really positive thing for our kids,” she said. “Our kids and Wyandotte County deserve this kind of opportunity.”

Alec Lemmon, a coach of a youth soccer team called Toca City, said that the team trains at the Wyandotte High School futsal courts every week, including the winter, and it’s busy every night.

“Soccer is the one thing in this community that is a common activity, it’s a shared thing across the diversity of the community,” he said.

The proposed locations of the eight futsal courts, which are subject to change, are Bethany Park, Clopper Field, Highland Park, Klamm Park, Stony Point Park, Welborn Park, Westheight Park and Wyandotte County Lake Park.

UG officials noted that there had been some difficulty in the past in deciding where to put three soccer fields in Wyandotte County.

While the proposal was for one futsal court in each commission district, Commissioner Jim Walters asked that the exact locations of the futsal courts not be set in stone yet, but continue to be discussed between the UG and Sporting KC. He said that some commissioners believed that most of the fields should be in the more urban portions of the county.

UG Administrator Doug Bach said that six of the eight courts would probably fall within the geographic boundary of being close to or east of I-635 in the urban area.

David Alvey, a Board of Public Utilities member who is also a member of the Standing Committee, pointed out that there are pockets of low-income areas throughout the county, not just east of I-635.

Commissioner Gayle Townsend said some of her constituents were concerned about the tennis courts at Klamm Park.

However, Bob Roddy, director of public works, said that in Klamm Park, there are six tennis courts, and one is proposed to be converted to futsal, leaving five for tennis.

He said the UG staff examined the parks to find where there were underutilized tennis courts.

Townsend suggested having some meetings for the public to attend, hear the proposal and express their opinions.

Cotton said they would be willing to work with each commissioner to select the best park location in each district. However, because of the cost of $100,000 or more to build a new futsal court, they are looking at converting existing paved areas such as tennis courts.

After it comes back to the Standing Committee with more details set, the futsal proposal will go to a Unified Government Commission meeting at a later date for final approval.

UG tries to rein in animal problems

Dog packs running loose in the community is one of the issues that will be addressed in an examination of animal control policies.

Shortage of space at the animal shelter and increasing the limits on pets allowed at residences are some of the other issues that may be addressed.

Police Capt. Michelle Angell of animal control said traps have been set recently in the Quindaro area for wild dogs, and four dogs were caught in the past week. Animal control has received complaints about dogs running loose, some in packs.

Not helping the situation is that the animal shelter is often full and sometimes unable to accept more dogs. Recently, Capt. Angell reported, the state has told the local shelter that it cannot double up dogs in kennels.

Animal control was the topic at a Unified Government Standing Committee meeting on Monday night. Commissioner Jane Philbrook asked representatives from animal control and a committee looking at the issues to address the commissioners.

The UG Standing Committee unanimously voted Monday to have a committee continue to look at this situation and come up with a final proposal to submit to the commission, including a budget recommendation and ordinance changes.

Capt. Angell told the commissioners that irresponsible pet owners and the pet population were the reasons animal control agencies exist. She described several improvements recently at the animal shelter, which opened in 1986, including renovations; a new surgical room and recovery room being set up; on-site veterinary services to spay and neuter; an isolation room; and new epoxy flooring for the kennel.  Some of the improvements were required by the state.

Numbers of animals were down at the animal shelter during 2013 because of a state requirement to allow more space for animals.

Capt. Angell also said officers found that warnings were not working, so the number of summons issued went up during 2013 from 1,119 to 2,137.  If the pet owner gets shots for the animal prior to the court date, the citations are dismissed and the owners just pay court costs, she said.

Among the ideas being discussed by the committee will be increasing the staff for animal control; allowing a larger number of pets per residence; more education; and changing language in ordinances to more clearly define animal abuse or neglect. The city currently has a leash law and a limit on the number of pets per residence. The group will look at different ways to deal with the cat population.

Katie Barnett, an attorney representing Professionals for a Humane and Safe Kansas City, a coalition of animal shelters, cited a recent citizen survey that ranked animal control as a high priority. This group has been talking with people in the community for about seven months about animal control and policies.

She said people are most concerned about stray dogs and dogs at large; public safety concerns about dangerous animals are breed-neutral; neglect; reducing the community cat population; and pet limits.

She also noted that some segments of the community want to increase outdoor walking trails, but that if residents are afraid to go outdoors because of stray dogs, no one would use the trails.

The committee may look at revising ordinances concerning the dangerous animal section; revising the definition of “proper care” to more definable terms; humane tethering guidelines; pet limits; and lower community cat population. She advocated repealing breed-specific language and implementing no tolerance for dangerous animals. She supported a trap, neuter and return policy for community cats.

Barnett also recommended formal training for animal control officers, and looking at changes to operations policies at the animal shelter.

In addition, she advocated an education program on living safely with dogs, humane care, and community outreach.

Barnett also said animal control was understaffed for a city this size.

Listed as additional resources and revenues through changes advocated by Barnett were increased licensing revenue from raising the pet limit; increased licensing revenue from allowing all breeds of dogs; increased revenues from online licensing and fee payments; resources and money saved from not seizing, impounding and euthanizing community cats; resources better allocated from targeting reckless owners and dangerous dogs, and not targeting breeds of dogs; a reduced number of animals impounded with revised policies and ordinance changes; an increased number of adoptions through the animal shelter; a free ride home for licensed and microchipped animals instead of impounding them; and increased penalties and citations for reckless owners.

Barnett listed expenditures from these proposed changes as unfreezing and funding three additional animal control officers who would patrol; increased impoundment of stray and feral dogs; formal education and training for animal control officers; new “adoption counselor” position; and updated equipment to increase efficiency.

The committee is expected to discuss “breed discrimination,” the idea that certain breeds such as pit bulls are naturally vicious and should be banned. Barnett said the current thinking is that animal behavior varies according to individual animals and not according to breed. Pit bulls are currently banned in Kansas City, Kan., and there is a movement to allow them, according to officials.

Proposal to put parole office at Argentine site moves forward

A project to put a parole office in a new public safety building proposed in the Argentine area moved forward tonight.

About 30 people turned out at a Unified Government Standing Committee meeting in support of the idea for a new public safety building on the grounds of the old Structural Steel site in the Argentine area.

The public safety building also would include a new South Patrol police station.

UG Commissioner Ann Murguia presented the idea to the committee, and the committee voted 6-0 to move the idea forward.

Murguia said she had held a community meeting with Argentine neighborhood leaders recently, and there was no opposition at the meeting.

The site of the public safety building office would be on a large site being developed near 21st and Metropolitan Avenue, where there is a Walmart Neighborhood Market being built. Not far from it is a new Save a Lot grocery store.

The public safety building would be on an environmentally remediated site, as it was a former silver smelting facility.

Murguia said the cost of a public safety building would be about $6 million, and it would be large enough to house more than the police station.

Over the next 20 years, she is estimating that Walmart will generate about $3 million in extra revenues for the community, leaving a $3 million gap. With a lease from the state for the parole office, $2 million over a 10-year period, that would bring the gap closer to $1 million, she said.

While in one sense the funding would come from outside the taxpayers, it will not all be realized until the end of a decade or two, and so the UG would need to fund the building through bonds or a note.  Murguia added that she would continue seeking grant funding for the project, and has already asked the Walmart Foundation for a grant.

The parole office earlier tried to move from its current location not far from 18th and I-70 to a new location at 7th and State Avenue, next to a child care center. That proposal met with considerable community opposition.

Rep. Val Winn led an effort in the state Legislature to defund any parole office location that is next to a child care center.

Murguia said the state’s lease is up in July at its present location for the parole office, but the state would see if it could extend it through the rest of the year.

In the future, as the idea for the public safety building progresses, more community meetings will be held to receive public comments, according to Murguia.

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