A Tale of Two Cities

Games of compare-and-contrast can be fun. They also provide a method to evaluate and learn from those things being compared and contrasted.

In the parks and recreation business, the rules of this game often morph. The simplistic compare-contrast approach yields to the more complex chess-like game of evaluating and defining the needs of each community. The check-mate is declared when facilities are overflowing with satisfied patrons.

And so it is with Medina, Ohio and Longmont, Colo., two strikingly similar cities whose newly-constructed recreation centers meet the somewhat different needs of their communities.

Medina and Longmont are both home to burgeoning populations, with large influxes of young families. Both are distinct cities with long histories separate from their much larger neighbors, Cleveland and Denver/Boulder respectively. And, both have developed as bedroom communities, feeding workers to the larger cities while providing a great quality of life conducive to those young families.

Though the cities seem to be demographic mirrors of each other, comparing and contrasting the two approaches to their new recreation centers would be unfair, and well… simplistic.

Instead, it’s best to tell two stories — tales, if you will — of how these two communities created recreation centers that meshed with the distinct personalities and needs of their communities. They also learned a lot of valuable lessons along the way, from which all parks and recreation departments can learn something.

Medina, Ohio

The City of Medina has a unique relationship with the local school district. It’s a long-time partnership that forges handshake deals. A good analogy is the friend who buys something for you, knowing you’ll return the favor. There’s no need to keep records. The slate is always clean.

“We utilize 17 of their ball fields in the summer, and they utilize some of ours for competition. We have paid to put lights on school property, and a lot of our recreational opportunities were through the schools,” explains Kenn Kaminski, director of parks and recreation for Medina.

Given this interaction, it was only natural that the issue put to voters to build a new recreation center would be tied directly to a school bond initiative. A previous initiative to build a new rec center had lost, as it was tied to other city works that had little or nothing to do with recreation, says Kaminski.

This time, the vote passed, creating a new high school and a connecting recreation center. The new recreation center, which opened to the public on Dec. 7, serves both the schools and the general public.

The trick would be to balance the needs of both and make sure students weren’t stepping on the toes, both literally and figuratively, of rec center patrons.

Two Birds, One Stone

“We give the school the money, they build the project and we manage the facility. Basically it’s a double-win situation — the residents get the biggest school in the state and a rec center without raising income taxes in the city,” says Kaminski.

The bond issue did raise property taxes, but the additions help create greater property values. Plus, research points to the fact that schools and recreation top the list of residents, regardless of where they’re located.

The new school and rec center are connected by one secure entrance to the field house, which has four full basketball courts and 24 hoops, 12 of which can be lowered to eight feet. The courts can be converted into tennis, volleyball and badminton, and one has a batting cage.

“We sat down with gym teachers, athletic teams and anyone else who used their competition gym, and asked what their needs would be. From that we were able to come up with a scheduling template. For example, we know there will be two gym classes here just about every hour of the day,” says Kaminski.

“Their athletic teams usually stayed until about 10 p.m., and one of the goals of this project was to get them home by six or 6:30. Now they’re able to bring their teams over here to practice, so they can bring their teams here from 3-5.”

Schools will also utilize the new competitive pool. In response to this opportunity, the district now has a swimming curriculum, something it didn’t have before.

The competition pool will allow for swim meets, complete with its own entrance, seating and a bulkhead that can change the configuration from meters to yards, depending on the requirements of the meet.

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