Stories from the NFCCA Newsletter, the “Northwood News”

Northwood News ♦ April 2010

Future of 11 Park Recreation Centers Uncertain

By Jim Zepp and Carole Barth

On 9 February 2010, the County Council voted to temporarily close 11 recreation centers — including North Four Corners — as part of a package of cost reductions to the current (FY10) operating budget.  Now the question is whether the Council will decide to re-open them in FY11 or close them permanently.

Also unknown is whether there will be a fully transparent discussion of the costs and benefits associated with this decision.  For that to occur, there needs to be open access to proposed budget details.

The North Four Corners Recreation Center in our neighborhood.

It would also be wise to take a closer look at the individual buildings.  These facilities have been characterized as in “fair” or “poor” condition.  Supposedly, closing them would save the county additional money that would otherwise be needed for expensive repairs and renovation.  Yet the recreation center in North Four Corners Local Park has already been renovated.  In recent years, it has had a new foundation, air conditioning system, and roof installed.

This made us curious, so we looked at six of the 11 buildings.  They all appeared to be sound and basically in good repair.  We saw no cracks, signs of settling, or crumbling foundations.  Exterior walls (whether log, brick, siding, or cinderblock) showed no damage or staining.  The roofs and air conditioning units appeared to be in good shape and of reasonably recent origin.  So a rushed decision to close these facilities may actually waste capital already invested in upkeep rather than avoiding future expenses.

The other rationale for closing these particular 11 buildings is that they are considered “underutilized.”  Facility users know, however, that the reservation and permitting system is itself an obstacle to improved usage rates.  Booking two groups for the same time slot, lost bookings, reserved but unused time slots that aren’t released, confusing and awkward online reservation pages, and inflexible time slots all conspire to make facility booking a painful and time-consuming process.

In addition, renters have always had to pick up building keys and sign papers during the work day, necessitating taking time off.  Ironically, now that buildings have been closed for underuse, the Parks permit office will be providing evening hours for key pickup.

Once again, we ask the Council to get all the facts before permanently closing these facilities.  This should include serious consideration of a consolidated reservation and permitting system with a single permitting staff.

How can the County justify maintaining multiple software copies and reservation staffs for park, recreation, and school facilities while cutting the services those systems are meant to provide?  Supposedly, this is because each agency has different rental policies.  It is well past time to create a unified rental policy and lose the redundant systems.

After all, for many neighborhoods, these buildings function as important community space.  A recent article from Park Talk, the newsletter of the Urban Parks Institute, expressed this beautifully:  “A good place works well not because of an aesthetic appeal, but because it is neighborly — it draws people in and enables them to relax companionably.  It might not look like much, but it knits its residents together as they while away time together and it is seen as the place to be!”   ■

   © 2010 NFCCA  [Source:]