Parks cuts may include closing Osage Rec Center

Osage Recreation Center once was a mainstay in south Wichita for family reunions, wedding anniversary celebrations, square dances, Halloween parties, tennis matches, basketball games, programs for young and old and countless meetings.

But that's no longer the case, and the 53-year-old center is now in jeopardy.

The city is recommending it be closed by the end of the year, part of a proposed streamlining of the Park and Recreation Department to save $877,000. Fourteen administrative positions would also be cut, and the Boston Recreation Center would be restructured.

Low usage of Osage, 2121 W. 31st St. South, and availability of similar services nearby are the driving forces behind the closing, City Manager Robert Layton said Wednesday.

He's also recommending the building be sold to a nonprofit organization.

"I don't know if that will be a recreation provider or some other type of service," Layton said. "But we'd like to get it in the hands of someone to provide new or additional services to the community."

He will ask the City Council to approve the plan later this month. The council earlier told the Park And Recreation Department to cut $1 million.

Layton will present his proposal, including shutting down Osage, at two public meetings today and Tuesday.

Those meetings are follow-ups to public sessions that the city has conducted at its 10 recreation centers since early October. Osage saw a small turnout and 20 people filled out survey questionnaires, Layton said.

Still, Layton said of his proposal, "I don't think it's fair to say it's a done deal. There's no sense to have community meetings, if that's the case.

"But I think the recommendations are consistent with what I heard from the 10 public meetings. So the purpose of these two public meetings is to make sure we heard the community correctly."

At those meetings, he said, the public told him and city staff that it wanted the Park and Recreation Department to maintain existing programs as much as possible but not to increase fees.

One way to accomplish that was to restructure.

Osage, which has one full-time employee and a number of part-timers, was an easy target. Its usage has been declining over the years. Its swimming pool closed in 2004.

A research study by Wichita State University's Hugo Wall School of Urban and Public Affairs showed that only 870 people used the center in 2009 for the city's programs.

About 6,400 used it as a rental, including the Golden Age Club.

By contrast, Evergreen Recreation Center in north Wichita saw 29,400 people use it in 2009 for city programs. It was rented for use by another 16,400.

While Evergreen recovers about 45 percent of its expenses, Layton said Osage recovers only 8 to 13 percent. The city's cost to operate Osage in 2009 was $183,000.

In addition, YMCA's south branch is less than 1 1/2 miles away and the city's Aley/Stanley Recreation Center is within three miles of Osage. Some nearby churches are also meeting neighborhood needs, Layton said.

Sixty percent of those using Osage in 2009 came from five miles away or more, WSU's survey found.

"We know we can accommodate those program needs at another center," Layton said. "Osage is not oriented to the neighborhood as strongly as other centers are."

Layton also wants to reduce park department staff because, he said, the management structure was a "little top heavy."

Of the 14 positions being eliminated, two are vacant, he said.

Those cuts and closing Osage combine to make up much of the $1 million budget cut. Layton said the other $123,000 can be made up by restructuring the cost of services.

"Right now, we are really inconsistent between centers in how we price our product," Layton said.

Asked if that meant increasing fees, he said, "that's what we have to talk about."

He's also proposing to add two positions. One would be for marketing, the other a business analyst.

"We heard from the community that we need to do a better job in marketing," Layton said. "We can do a better job from a business standpoint."

The $877,000 savings in the proposal includes the cost of adding the two positions, Layton said.

Another recommendation is the restructuring of Boston Recreation Center, 6655 E. Zimmerly.

On a trial basis during the first quarter of 2011, Layton wants to form a community partnership to operate the center.

He said that might involve the YMCA, Genesis Health Clubs or another group working with the city to operate the center or taking it over.

"The most important thing is that we maintain the existing service level," Layton said. "It just may be someone else providing the programs."

Last year, 3,400 people used Boston for city programs. Another 7,200 used it as a rental. The center recovered 15 percent or less of its costs, Layton said.