Guest Commentary:  BACA Report Bay Oaks

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We learned a few new things as town officials discussed potential futures for the Bay Oaks Rec Center this week at a Bay Oaks Advisory Board meeting, and confirmed some things we already knew.

The members of the Bay Oaks Rec Campus Advisory Board (BORCAB) are all supporters and lovers of Bay Oaks. Who else would surrender big blocks of their time to meet and talk about what goes on at the center and how it can be done better? Some of these people have been doing it for 20 years.

Thank you to chair Betty Simpson, vice-chair Rae Sprole, Tom Myers, Becky Bodnar, Janna Holmes, Dave Anderson and Denise Monahan.

These folks and newly elected council member Tracey Gore, the new BORCAB Liaison to council, had hard questions for town manager Don Stilwell and administrative services director Maureen Rischitelli. Rischitelli is developing a report on current Bay Oaks activities, functions and costs to take to Town Council on May 2.

Stilwell said that report would include three or four options for council to consider.

Some options may not make it that far. Gore said she wants to take some of the more extreme possibilities – like using part of the gym building for Public Works equipment storage – off the table.

Stilwell said he’d hate to take any option off the table before council sees the report. Monahan brought up the Public Works vehicle storage rumor, saying she hoped it was simply a rumor to be squashed.

Stilwell said that since ‘we have two gyms’ at Bay Oaks and the town needs room for public works vehicles it’s a concept worth exploring.

Sprole interjected the building is all one gym – there are two basketball courts in one large space – that’s routinely used as a single space.

Stilwell said all too often the gym is lightly used.

“It’s something staff has to look at,” he said. “We can’t just say it’s sacrosanct because it’s always been a gym.”

Storing vehicles and equipment at Bay Oaks would also free-up space at Town Hall, Stilwell said. Simpson wondered whether the town needs all that new equipment, noting that selling some of it off would also free up space – as well as money. Stilwell said that’s being looked at, too.

Both Sprole and Monahan were upset such an option would even be considered. Gore said that option is one she can bring up at a council meeting and squash it, a move Stilwell said would be ‘unfortunate’.

BORCAB members said they want to make sure the plan for Bay Oaks’ future is community-generated, not a ‘top-down’ plan from town staff. They said comparisons should not be made to what the facility was when the town took it over because Lee County had ‘stripped Bay Oaks to the bare bones’ before the transition.

Gore and Stilwell also crossed when she started discussing staffing, asking whether Bay Oaks would be better off with a single person in charge. Since the former parks and rec director was fired a few weeks ago other employees have stepped in to keep things going.

“This is where we get in trouble with micro-managing,” Stilwell said. “That’s really a staff responsibility.”

“It’s the community’s responsibility to make sure it’s done right,” Gore shot back.

They’re both right. Stilwell works for Town Council. Town staffers work for him, and staffing decisions are his to make.

Rischitelli said she’s identifying activities as either core services, enhanced services or lifestyle services. She said she’s determining real costs for existing programs and activities. She said Bay Oaks tried to provide so many different services and programs that the quality of the services have suffered.

“We’ve sliced the pie so thin that programs have suffered,” she said.

Stilwell said that report would be an early step in the budget process. He said the projected cost for operating Bay Oaks had been around $300,000 when the town took it over, but said it’s exceeded $800,000.

The town parks and rec budget is a little over $800,000. Town documents from before the current study listed as much as $240,000 in revenue to offset that cost.

Stilwell said he believes the town will have to ‘refocus’ Bay Oaks on core services. Rischitelli said she realizes attaching a dollar number to many programs is difficult, because the programs themselves have value beyond their price.

“But we have to be honest about what the cost is and that we want to pay the cost,” she said.

Time and again committee members and staffers decried the abounding rumors that Bay Oaks might be closed, rumors propped up by a fired parks and rec director, a lapsed 5-year plan and a 4-month sabbatical for BORCAB meetings while members awaited re-appointment.

Stilwell said that’s never been discussed at any level.

“Council makes the decision,” he said. “The town manager doesn’t decide.”

The good thing, Simpson said, is that the rumors themselves have renewed community interest and support for Bay Oaks.

He’s right again. The Town Council will decide. It will start deciding based on Rischitelli’s report and the options Stilwell presents.

BORCAB members said they want to be involved in the evaluation, or at least get a chance to review and discuss it before it goes before council.

BACA will be watching and reviewing the report as well.

 

Charlie Whitehead
President, Beach Area Civic Association