City of Saline Seeks Answers on Rec Center's Feasibility
Is the Saline Rec Center on the ropes?
At least one member of Saline City Council seems to think so.
Councillor Janet Dillon urged the city to move faster on a feasibility study of the city-owned rec center.
The center's revenue sources were smashed by the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns. The lockdowns closed the pandemic for months on end. Membership revenue collection was paused and some members canceled memberships. Most of the federal COVID money that flowed into the city was used to backstop losses at the Rec Center.
While Dillon had concerns about a feasibility study being awarded to a firm recommended by a member of the Rec Center panel without the city reviewing alternatives, she also said it was urgent for the city to answer questions about Rec Center revenue.
"This is a feasibility study. We have one shot at this. We've now gone over a year spinning around with where we are at and I'm really concerned from a funding standpoint," Dillon said. "If we hadn't hard ARPA (federal COVID relief) dollars, the Rec Center would be closed with a for sale sign on it right now."
Dillon said city council needs those answers before next year's budget deliberations.
"What are we going to do next, budget cycle? This is an urgent matter. This is whether or not the city is going to be able to maintain the rec center in the future," Dillon said.
City Manager Colleen O'Toole suggested the city put out a request for qualifications to find firms who could do the study.
Marl said the city should move expeditiously. He also seemed to take issue with the portrait painted by Dillon.
"I want to be clear because sometimes I think the rhetoric gets a little hyperbolic and hot. I'm very optimistic about the future of the Rec Center and I think that the trend of the last six months has been very positive in innumerable ways. I think some important changes have occurred on site," Marl said, pointing to the recent purchase of slightly used equipment for the center.
A memo from Mayor Marl to council struck the Rec Center panel for another year. Councillor Dean Girbach, like Dillon, said the city needs to act faster than that.
"We have issues in terms of the whole process for the Rec Center that are urgent at this point. And I'm not sure how the RFP and will turn around in terms of another year waiting. I just need to know what kind of timeline we're anticipating," Girbach said. "This needs to be expedited. We have yet to have the final report on how the Rec Center did for the fiscal year.
Marl said he just used the one-year term to give the group time to work with city staff on whatever initiatives are recommended.
The City of Saline is considering a feasibility study for the Saline Rec Center. The study would look at the city-owned facility's funding model, layout of the facility, conditions and potential amenities which might be worthy of investment.
In October of 2021, council voted 5-2 to accept the recommendations of the Rec Center Sustainability Task Force to "stop the bleeding" and stabilize the financial situation at the city's 30-year-old rec center.
O'Toole said the Rec Center had built a healthy fund balance prior to the pandemic and had a nearly self-funded operation. She said the city audit is nearly finished and that she did not year have the most recent financial numbers from the Rec Center.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, there were more than 2,500 memberships at the Rec Center - a number that fell to 1,110 last year. The pandemic and the resulting measures cost the facility $1.2 million in revenue. In 2021 it was expected the city would receive $950,000 in COVID-19 relief over two years, programming much of that money to the Rec Center.
The discussion of the study came during Monday's Saline City Council meeting, when council voted 7-0 to transition the Rec Center Sustainability Taskforce into the Rec Center Advisory Panel. Membership will remain unchanged. The panel will be composed of Mayor Marl, Councillor Girbach, City Manager O'Toole, Parks & Recreation Director Carla Scruggs, Deputy Parks and Recreation Director Sunshine Lambert, Canton Director of Leiser Services Greg Hohenberger, community leader Paul Hynek and former Milan Parks and Recreation Director Chris Wingate. The panel will assist city staff with reviewing proposals for the feasibility study and organizing townhall meetings/forums, and evaluating community feedback about the Rec Center.