Archive for Thursday, January 10, 2008

Community Center battling staffing, exposure issues

January 10, 2008

After opening in early November, the $3.8 million Eudora Community Center is experiencing growing pains. Parks and Recreation Director Tammy Hodges said what had been hardest to combat was residents' misconceptions about the cost of activities.

"Yes, there's a charge to basically everything we have to offer, but we try to offer some free stuff, too," Hodges said. "Once we get on our feet and get things ready to go, we'll have socials and things like that and that's what we're trying to do with the free night."

In its program guide, Eudora Parks and Recreation Department lists card nights and senior citizen evenings as free events. One of the main hurdles for those programs, which have gone almost completely unnoticed by the public, is staffing.

The Community Center staff consists of Hodges, program supervisor Jim Kegin, two part-time maintenance workers and three part-time front-desk receptionists. Many times, Hodges and Kegin are left with the burden of running not just the day-to-day operations of the facility, but also making sure that programs such as youth basketball leagues and volleyball - both of which start in January - are up and ready to go.

The Christmas break especially crystallized the need for more staff, as kids inundated the basketball court, which is free to use, throughout each day. Hodges and Kegin attributed the surge to word of mouth.

"We had a couple of junior high kids that came in one day and then we had 70 kids here the next day," Hodges said. "The parents have now realized that this is a necessity."

Although excited to see people from the community realize the basketball court was free, Hodges and Kegin were the only employees who were there to provide supervision.

"We were patrol officers for two weeks," Hodges said. "This is positive, though. What would those 70 kids have done if this weren't here? There were some different kids, but it was the same kids, too. You knew right on target when they were going to show up and most of them were here from noon until seven or eight o'clock at night."

The rush over the holidays caused them to start working on the staffing issues that may arise this summer.

"We need to set down a plan for the summer because of the way we got hit at Christmas," Hodges said. "We are going to get annihilated when the pool opens. We've got to do an emergency action plan for the summer."

More staff members mean that the city will have to spend more money, a point not lost on Hodges, but she said that the city needs to follow through on providing a much needed service to the city.

"I know that people's tax dollars went into making this building, but they aren't going in to everything that's going on inside it," she said. "We're going to have to have more funding eventually in the future because the people voted for this and now the funding has got to come along to help support it.

"People are starting to make demands and now that we have a building, we can try to meet those demands. But you can only do so many programs with so much help. We want to offer the world to people, but we're spreading ourselves so thin so we can't always get that going."

The department also had trouble letting the community know about the existence of all the programs offered. However, Kegin said that the new building was a huge improvement over the former office located in downtown Eudora.

"Nobody knew where we were at, and we didn't even have a sign," he said. "How do you get the word out? I was also new in town and I didn't know where to go to get fliers put up. But this building has really helped tremendously."

They will be putting a sign up in three to four weeks facing Elm Street. However, they also would like to put up an LED sign on the back of the building, which faces Church Street.

Parks and recreation department officials, though, has put their faith in their new program guide, which will come out in February and will be delivered to each home in Eudora.

"Once they start seeing that in their mailbox, that's really going to help us," Hodges said.

While the guide will list dates and prices for the sports leagues, it underlines the fact that the community center provides more than just sports. Among those non-sport programs are babysitting classes, banking classes (for kids and adults) and arts and crafts for kids.

While many of the sports leagues cost money, Kegin said that they don't cost as much as those in Lawrence. For instance, a seven-game season in Lawrence costs $285, whereas a 10-game season in Eudora cost $265.

"Yes, things cost money - they have to cost money - but we're still cheaper," Kegin said.

Though the sports do cost money, the department said that it should not be seen as a business.

"People don't understand that this is a service - we provide a service to people," Kegin said. "We're not always going to make money, but we'll provide a service, just like you provide water or electricity to a town."

Furthermore, Hodges said, as the word got out about the community center and all of the programs offered, the department will flourish.

"This business will not fold because we're not a business, we're your community center and this will be here until we all pass away," she said.

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