Parks Board Proposes Fees For New Rec Facilities

December 3, 2009

As construction on the new West University Place Recreation Center and Colonial Park Pool progresses more or less on time, a city board on Dec. 2 released a draft fee structure for the new facilities.

“There’s really two points we want to get across,” said Kevin Boyle, a Parks and Recreation Board member who helped draft the fee structure. “Fairness, to be fair to all residents, therefore taxpayers. And simplicity, easy to understand and administer.”

Construction for the West University Place Recreation Center is about 80 percent complete and the facility is set to open in April 2010.

Construction for the West University Place Recreation Center is about 80 percent complete and the facility is set to open in April 2010.

The board wishes to finalize the fee structure by January, but must iron out details that concern some members. The concerns include that high membership fees may price out some West U. residents, and that competitive rates for non-residents could attract a flood of people who may crowd out West U. residents who want to use the Recreation Center. Another possible controversial topic is that the board is not proposing discounts for seniors, although it will allow decreased fees for anyone who can’t afford the full rate.

West U. Parks and Recreation Director Tim O’Connor reminded members at the Dec. 2 board meeting that the facilities’ fees should cover the operation and maintenance budgets, which will be about $210,000 for Colonial Park and about $716,000 for the Recreation Center.

“We have to have our fees out pretty dog gone quickly,” O’Connor said. With the Recreation Center scheduled to open in April and Colonial Park opening by Memorial Day, the department needs to begin marketing soon, he said.

The proposed membership fees progress on a tiered structure for individuals, couples and families. Across the board at the Recreation Center, non-residents will pay 50 percent more than residents. Non-resident rates are a moot point at Colonial Pool — The facility will admit only residents for the first year of operation until officials can gauge its popularity.

An individual resident seeking a monthly membership would pay $30 at the Recreation Center and $31.25 per month at Colonial Pool, but if he purchased memberships at both facilities he would pay only $25 at Colonial. Couples would pay $40 per month at the Recreation Center, and would pay individual rates at Colonial.

Families seeking Recreation Center memberships would pay $50 per month, and the Colonial Pool membership would cost $75 per month. A family would only have to pay $43.75 per month at Colonial if it already bought a membership at the Recreation Center.

West U. residents without memberships could still work out at the Recreation Center for $8 per day, kids could swim there for $5 per day, and residents of all ages could use Colonial Pool for $5 per day.

Boyle said that his subcommittee came up with the fees after researching several organizations and other cities with facilities containing comparable equipment and services, like the Weekley Family YMCA in Houston. The rates for non-residents will be a “fair market price” compared to these other facilities, Boyle said. But the rates for residents are 50 percent lower because they also must pay taxes to make up the $13.8 million voter-approved bond that paid for construction of the two facilities.

Still, board member Charles May raised concerns that prices would be too high for some West U. residents. An individual who wanted memberships at both facilities would pay $460 per year, while families with dual annual memberships would pay $775.

“Lower-end folks will have a struggle trying to pay for it,” May said. “I just don’t want to price out the residents, that’s my concern. I’d rather price out non-residents than price out residents.”

Boyle said the city would use an “honor system” to ensure that West U. residents would not be priced out.

“We don’t want people to say ‘Present your W-2, show me your food stamps’ … That’s demeaning,” he said. “Simply pay what you can afford. If that means I can afford absolutely nothing, then it’s nothing.”

Elderly residents on fixed incomes would be able to use the “honor system,” but the fact that the board hasn’t proposed a specific senior discount may irritate some people.

Other board members were concerned that too many non-residents would find they could easily afford the competitive membership rates at the Recreation Center.

“If I have a concern as a resident, I’d say my biggest pet peeve is when I come to swim, and there are no lanes open, and I know there are non-residents there who are swimming,” said Teresa Edmondson. “I’d almost lean towards being really conservative around the membership of the rec center.”

O’Connor said he thought the Recreation Center could accommodate everyone who wanted to use it, residents and non-residents, because not everyone would visit the facility for the same thing at the same time. Some would want to swim, while others would be attracted to the cardio machines, fitness classes or the racquetball courts.

Board Vice Chair Janine Schueppert said the city could keep an eye on popularity, and if there is overcrowding the board could make changes to non-resident fees.

“These numbers can be offered for non-residents as an initial starting point,” Schueppert said.
“If we feel we’re getting too many people, we could adjust those numbers.”

O’Connor said the city could also cap the number of non-residents memberships if overcrowding forces residents away. The board hopes to finalize the fee structure by Jan. 6 and then send a recommendation to the city council.

Whatever fees become final, those who purchase memberships won’t need to bother with keeping track of pesky membership cards to get into the facilities. Instead, they’ll use state-of-the art biometric technology.

“I think it reads the veins, the palm of the hands,” O’Connor said. “No one is going to forget their hand.”

InstantNewsWestu Staff

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