Our Opinion: Centered on recreational amenities – and concerns

“Well, since we don’t have any money, let’s think big,” a former Jefferson City parks commissioner quipped when the concept of building a recreation center was introduced in August 2006.

And think big they did. A proposed $22.9 million, three-phase project with up to four gymnasiums and an indoor aquatic center was unveiled last week.

Members of the Jefferson City Parks and Recreation Commission, the parks resources committee and multipurpose building steering committee discussed the proposal Tuesday with Darrin Barr, project consultant with Ballard*King & Associates.

The consultant enumerated local residents’ Top 10 list of recreation center amenities. The four receiving the most interest are: a walking-jogging track; weight-lifting and cardiovascular facilities; indoor aquatic center; and aerobic fitness space.

Other desired features included: gymnasium space; meeting rooms; kitchen area; indoor turf; child watch services; and “green space” connectivity.

At least gymnasium space — the identified need that triggered discussion five years ago — received mention.

In a News Tribune story dated Aug. 27, 2006, Tina Werner, the parks agency’s programming director, explained the scheduling problem.

At the time, the parks agency sponsored volleyball leagues, as well as separate basketball leagues for adults, high school students and fifth and sixth grades.

Area school and church gymnasiums, Werner said, “don’t consistently have gyms open one night a week. We need to schedule our games nine to 10 weeks in a row and we very seldom can get in for that length of time.”

The need she identified is accurate.

But needs differ from wants.

Although costs were linked with each of the project’s three building phases, financing was largely absent from the discussion.

The cost of constructing and operating a facility — regardless of scale and scope — will need further discussion.

Another topic touched on during last week’s meeting also deserves further discussion and scrutiny.

The issue centers on the question: Is it necessary and appropriate for a public agency to compete with services offered by both non-profit entities and private businesses?

Examples, including our municipal golf course, exist. But to what extent do we funnel tax-dollars to compete with — and, perhaps, eliminate — local businesses?

Ultimately, Jefferson City residents must make this call.

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