Two Cities Redux

It’s a numbers game. At least that’s the way it panned out over the past year at recreation centers in Longmont, Colo., and Medina, Ohio. This particular numbers game was beneficial and challenging for both centers.

The benefit was obvious as people flocked to these relatively new recreation centers (Longmont’s opened in March of 2002 and Medina’s on Dec. 7, 2002) and the resulting revenues soared beyond expectations.

“Our original estimate was that we would bring in about $760,000 and year-to-date we’re right around $1 million, which far exceeded what we hoped for. Our attendance was estimated around 225,000 and we’ll be closer to 300,000,” says Jeff Friesner, recreation manager for the City of Longmont.

Kenn Kaminski, Medina’s director of parks and recreation, noting a similar experience, says the city’s goal of selling 8,000 season passes was exceeded by 1,500.

“Our biggest challenge to start with was having the right number of staff during the right period of the day. We would have four people at the front desk when we thought we would be really busy, and it didn’t turn out that way. Then we’d only have two people at another time when it was very busy,” explains Friesner.

“Throughout the facility we’ve been able to identify what those appropriate levels are.”

Kaminski says that opening Medina’s recreation center during the winter probably brought in more initial crowds than a spring or summer opening might have. In order to compensate for that,

Kaminski hired more people at fewer hours per week. If he needed additional help it wasn’t so difficult for someone who was scheduled for only 12 hours or so to add a few more to their schedule.

“You should compensate by hiring more people, especially the first six weeks. We know that from now to the middle of March we’re going to be crowded,” says Kaminski.

“And, because we weeded out the bad apples early, and everyone saw that we would do that, it kept the part-timers happy and pleased. Our two biggest areas for staffing problems are early-morning lifeguards, because we start at 5:30 a.m., and our snack bar is difficult.”

Patterns of Use

An interesting trend that Longmont found was the intense amount of drop-in use. The center began with a relatively limited programming slate, anticipating an expanded programming schedule as time went by.

“We have found that the drop-in use is so high that we’ve had to offer very little in expanding our programs. Our pass holders and drop in use is so high that we can’t invade their space,” explains Friesner.

One programming area that has seen high demand and growth is personal training, says Sue Jacobson, recreation program supervisor for Longmont. “We never offered personal training in the past at other sites, and it has gone through the roof here,” she says.

Jacobson and Friesner say that the fitness area is relatively small, which creates an organizational and space challenge. However, a smaller fitness area was a conscious design decision, given that local health clubs expressed their competitive concerns. The design Longmont settled on helped settle their fears and they did not raise an objection to the center at public hearings.

Kaminski says that Medina’s fitness area is its most popular. It has a lot of space, which helps further accommodate the high-school that shares many of the recreation center’s facilities.

The most important lesson about opening and operating a recreation center, says Kaminski, is to be flexible and adaptable.

The fitness center provides a good example of this philosophy as an unexpected trend emerged that younger children from 10-13 were interested in working out. However, the original policy effectively banned youngsters.

The answer was to provide a mandatory orientation. Now, in addition to an orientation, 12 and 13 year olds are allowed in as long as a parent is in the recreation center; 10 and 11 year olds need to have a parent with them in the fitness area.

(A rundown of general operations and facilities can be found in last year’s profile of Longmont’s and Medina’s recreation centers in the January 2003 issue of Parks & Rec Business, beginning on page six. The article may also be found at www.parksandrecbusiness.com.)

Rentals for birthday parties and other special events have also been very popular in Longmont. The popularity of these events is due in large part to the center’s climbing wall and expansive aquatics center.

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