By C.J. Barbre

Lindsay is in a renaissance period, with a lot of positive changes going on. The city wants to restore its flagging recreation program as part of that renaissance.

Lindsay Recreation Authority Chairman Guy Wollenman spoke to councilmembers in a study session after the Feb. 8 Lindsay City Council meeting. He said the Lindsay Recreation Authority (LRA) was created in 1994 after the city got some "real significant grants."

In the April 27, 1994 Gazette there was a small item on page 1 stating, "Choosing to put the community's recreation program on more solid footing, three local governing bodies approved the formation of a joint powers authority (JPA) establishing the Lindsay Recreation Authority. The Lindsay City Council, Board of Education for the Lindsay Unified School District, and Healthy Kids – Healthy Lindsay committee voted to create the recreation JPA." It went on to name appointees, one of whom was Steve Velasquez.

"Since then many grants have dried up," Wollenman said. Healthy Kids – Healthy Lindsay was a half-funding partner but decided they could no longer financially support the program. It became the responsibility of the city and the school district to fund everything including Teen Zone and the community swimming pool. At the same time insurance rates and Workers' Compensation rates have skyrocketed.

"The LRA is now asking the city to take back recreation, like it was prior to 1994, but to also include school district funding and community involvement such as private donations and team sponsorships," Wollenman told the council. He said they didn't want the city to take over, "but just do a better job of administration." This would allow the LRA to cover workers' comp and player liability much cheaper, he said. He added that it would allow recreation to expand to allow for adult sports activities, not possible to date because of limited resources.

City Manager Scot Townsend said the LRA "had a useful life, but has come to the end of that time period, especially with the Wellness Center." He said recreation could be a quality of life issue, and that the planned sports court next to the Moore Building would bring more people downtown.

"I personally think the timing is right," Townsend said, but he asked for council input, noting that a major cost is insurance.

Townsend said they always had an LRA Director, who, over time, became the sole person responsible for running the various programs. "I'm not sure if we got the full bang for our buck. I think the new approach should be to hire people for particular programs and not a director around the clock."

He noted that the Wellness Center would probably have a recreation coordinator, but would still have citizens running different programs. He repeated that it would be a quality of life issue. "They will come and see a great program and leave with a good impression."

Townsend said he wanted to see the Teen Zone continue to operate until the Wellness Center is up and running. The LRA received $6,000 from the Lindsay District Hospital Board in January. The Gazette stated in the Feb. 1 issue about the funding, "With their 2004-2005 funding depleting, the LRA made the decision to fully fund programs that were in high attendance. While Teen Zone served an average of 250 different participants per month (about 50 daily), youth sports programs and recreational swimming took priority over the center at 288 N. Sweet Brier Ave."

The school district and the city each fund the LRA at $22,500 annually.

Townsend said the city has included a Recreation Department in this year's budget, projected to be funded at $83,000. "We want to operate the present programs on a high level, We want them all first class and as they transition to the wellness center they can perhaps double or triple activities." He said most cities have recreation departments which they operate. He said the Lindsay Recreation Authority as it exists now would dissolve on Aug. 1, but that the city would take over the programs on July 1.

The Teen Zone was closed temporarily in December but was scheduled to reopen last Monday. Wollenman said they would be creating alternative recreation for the Teen Zone, so that it was not just a place to hang out and play X-Boxes. It also offers an alternative to skateboarding. He said it could be games like bingo or cards.

Councilmember Velasquez agreed that the challenge is keeping all of the kids busy at organized activities. He said from his own history with the Teen Zone, they kept them involved with such activities as ping pong, foosball, movie night, and reading programs. "If they're not doing [organized activities] it can be very chaotic," he said. He also agreed that having adult activities and parent-run programs was a good thing. "They usually have the money," he said. He added that leadership training could be an aspect of the whole process, building a ladder of authority.

Townsend said he could see a Wellness Center director and a recreation coordinator if the city takes it on, but the bulk of the responsibility would be transferred to the parents, "a much better model for success." He said they would need to document their activities and create binders so there would be a model for the next program. That way they could also track improvements from year to year. He said they have Brad Albertson from C-Set working with them to develop that model.

Mayor Pro Tem Pam Kimball wondered what kind of responsibility would be involved for an advisory board.

Townsend said they should meet monthly or quarterly to evaluate what's going on and suggest any changes, or "advise."

"Will city council have an increased role in recreation?" Kimball asked timidly, as if her plate were already pretty full, which it is.

"Ultimately, yes," Townsend responded.

Wollenman said the advisory board would all be stakeholders.

Mayor Ed Murray, who has been serving on the LRA board said, "The model sounds real good."

Townsend said it was not their intention to have the Wellness Center just be a place that occupied people for a couple of hours, or a babysitting service. He said they want people engaged in the activities that will be available there and this was a more productive approach, a long term investment.

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