Parks Department seeks feedback on community center cutbacks

Though the Central District’s community centers (but not the wading pools) got out of the last round of budget cuts without too much of a hit, several other centers around the city did not. By dramatically reducing use at several centers, the city was able to save $1.3 million, and now they are looking at ways to restructure community center operations and revenue streams in order to reduce the department’s reliance on the city’s general fund.

These cost-cutting measures range from restructuring centers into geographic groups that coordinate programming to closing centers entirely with hopes of finding third parties to take over operations and costs for their own uses. While a Microsoft datacenter wouldn’t fit with potential third-party programs, foundations and community organizations such as the Pratt Fine Arts Center that could utilize the space would.

Two public meetings on the plan are currently scheduled, though neither are on the Hill. The first is June 15, 7–8:30 p.m. at the Bitter Lake Community Center, 13035 Linden Ave. N. The second is on Beacon Hill June 16, 7–8:30 p.m., at Jefferson Community Center, 3801 Beacon Ave. S.

You can also weigh-in by completing an online survey expressing your level of support for the nine options prepared by the study. The survey also has a brief description of each option and the anticipated affects of each on the budget. If you want to read more about each option, you can download PDF documents of each from the Parks website.

Among the highlights of the studies, Parks determines they could save $126,000 by raising participant fees by 10 percent, then offering Seattle residents a 10 percent discount. Several nearby municipalities already do this, including Renton, Mercer Island and Des Moines.

The options that save the most would close some of the smaller centers and attempt to find organizations that would take out long-term leases on the buildings. Examples of such an arrangement include the Cascade People’s Center, the Madrona Dance Studio run by Spectrum Dance Theater, and the Pratt Fine Arts Center. This extreme option would, of course, make it difficult to change the buildings back to community centers if budget conditions improve.

Brief descriptions of the options, from the Parks survey:

Option 1: Geographic Management of Community Centers

Organize community centers into 7 geographic groups of 3 or 4 centers that are managed and programmed in a coordinated fashion, and partially or fully restore the current limited use sites (Alki, Ballard, Green Lake, Laurelhurst and Queen Anne).

Potential savings: $665,000 if hours are partially restored at limited use sites

Option 2: Tiered Community Centers

Each community center is classified as belonging to a tier, based on criteria including physical facilities, current use, and demographics. Public hours and staffing depend on the tier. As in Option 1, the centers are managed in geographic groups with programming done on a coordinated basis.  

Potential savings: $1,230,000.

Option 3: Tiered Community Centers with 2-3 Centers Closed or Run by Others

Tiered community centers as in Option 2 but with 2-3 lower tier centers closed. Closed centers are made available for partnerships to operate all or part of a center.

Potential savings: $1,779,000.

Option 4: Close Community Centers

Stop City operation of between 7-10 community centers (no City staff, no public hours). Closed centers are made available for partnerships to operate all or part of a center. Community centers that remain open operate as they did in 2010.

Potential savings: $1,458,000 – $2,714,000.

Option 5: Increase PAR Fee

The City currently retains 3.25% of gross revenue from associated Recreation Council (ARC) classes, sports fees, and childcare services  (10% for Lifelong Recreation courses) to support community center  operations. This percent retained is known as a Participation Fee or PAR fee. Change the PAR fee to 4% or 5%.

Estimated savings: $126,000 for increase to 5% or $47,000 for increase to 4%

Option 6: Resident Discount

Pilot raising basic fees for programs and services about 10% but offering Seattle residents a 10% discount. Pilot could be at Amy Yee Tennis Center or at all swimming pools.

Potential savings: $7,000 for tennis center pilot; $47,000 for pool pilot; and $126,000 for all facilities

Option 7: Volunteers

Expand use of volunteers in order to forge stronger connections with the community, free professional staff for duties requiring their expertise, make community centers more welcoming to all users, and make programming and rentals more affordable during times when a community center is not open or is underused.

Potential savings: Unlikely to be major source of budget savings.

Option 8: Reprogramming of Underused Spaces

Times when a community center is not open to the public or when it is   underused are called dark hours. This option would recruit outside organizations (partners) to provide programs or services using community center facilities during dark hours. Partners could include other governmental organizations and private or community-based organizations. The goal is to maximize use of community centers and provide a range of services to the public.

Potential savings: Unlikely to be a major source of additional revenue.

Option 9: Long-term Lease of Entire Community Center

An outside organization assumes total responsibility for operation of a community center that would otherwise be closed (see options 3 and 4). Parks retains ownership of the facility and responsibility for major maintenance costs.

Potential savings: Avoids General Fund net expense of $400,000 per standard center, or $100,000 per current limited use center. Rent payments by lessee would provide additional savings.

0 thoughts on “Parks Department seeks feedback on community center cutbacks

  1. seem to be well-run organizations operating small well-focused programs. I agree that volunteers should not be a great source of savings. While ommunity volunteers are great, I am not sure how great this idea is. Responsible public employees perform critical services. I would not want us to begin expecting that every time the public sector is financially stressed that we stop paying employees. For instance, when the number of paid hours for teachers are cut, do we expect that they will still volunteer their time for planning, etc? Some probably do, but I think it is disheartening. In this time of high unemployment it would be nice to see some money made available to public works projects that would help pay some of these salaries. I think on certain projects a call for volunteers could be made. Thank you for the story. I will not say more until I look at the survey and PDFs.


  2. Parks and Rec could save a lot of $ by eliminating the guys using gas-powered blow guns to clear the jogging trails from their weed-whacking. i was running thru the arboretum, and there was an employee spending hours trying to blow the grass he had just cut off the trail. i came back an hr later, and he was still at it. seemed like a waste of time and gas, not to mention the noise and smoke!