POSTED ON JUNE 22, 2011:
Centers of Attention
The parks department hopes private partners will revive shuttered community centers
More than a year after closing seven of their aging community centers as a cost-cutting measure, Tulsa Park and Recreation Department officials are preparing a request for proposals to see if any private entities have an interest in operating some of the facilities on a partnership basis.
"We're discussing what shape they're in and putting together an RFP (request for proposal) for a couple of the sites, but that's not ready yet," department director Lucy Dolman said, indicating she would like to see the request issued by the end of the year.
"What we want is a partner, and a partner would have to meet certain requirements, such as being open to the public, that sort of thing," she said.
Dolman emphasized the RFP would not pertain to all seven of the community centers that were closed in February 2010, though she declined to name which ones were being considered for partnerships.
The community centers at Franklin Park, Hill Park, Manion Park, Maxwell Park, Springdale Park, Zeigler Park and Owen Park were closed after Dolman's department had its budget reduced by $436,000. Nine community centers remained open.
Dolman said last year she felt she had no choice but to close the community centers, some of which already were being operated in partnerships with private groups. Those groups had been paying the utility bills on the buildings since September 2009, but the department was still paying maintenance and capital costs for the centers.
Given the fact that each of those buildings was constructed in the 1950s, 1960s or 1970s, those costs were considerable, she said.
Terry Simonson, Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr.'s chief of staff, noted those past partnerships had not been enough to keep the buildings open when the city went through an unprecedented budget crisis. He hopes that when the RFP is issued, the situation is different this time.
"We want to make sure the program fits the community and the group has the capability to maintain (the building), pay its portion of the costs and serves the community," he said. "We also want to make sure it ties into the (recently adopted) park master plan."
City Councilor Jack Henderson -- whose District 1 included four of the closed community centers, Owen, Franklin, Hill and Zeigler -- said he welcomed the news of the RFP and the possibility that some of the centers might be reopened.
"I think there's a lot of interest already," he said, noting that he had received a few phone calls from parties interested in exploring a partnership with the city.
"They used to do that before," Henderson said of the partnerships. "The fact that they're looking to do that again is a positive to me, because we were told they were not going to. But anything is better than tearing them down or boarding them and leaving them as eyesores in the community."
It would be a mistake to underestimate the importance of community centers to North Tulsa, said Henderson, who unsuccessfully championed a proposal last year that would have created a dedicated funding source for city parks and public safety through a sales tax.
"Parks are one of the things people move to a community for, and community centers need to be open," he said. "There's a fear going on right now that all our schools are closing, our swimming pools are closing and our community centers are closing, and there's a chance of North Tulsa going backward and becoming a ghost town.
"That's certainly not what I'm working for," he said. "Community centers are vital to any community but especially to this community."
Dolman said the condition of the centers that were closed varies. She said minimal utilities are being kept on at each of them and that the buildings are being kept secure. She said her staff is examining each of them and developing estimates on what it would cost to repair them.
"We know that some are in better shape than others," she said.
The ultimate fate of the buildings remains up in the air, according to Dolman, who estimated last year her department could save up to $1.3 million by not operating the closed community centers. In some cases, the cost of rehabilitating them could be prohibitive, and no decisions on their fate can be made until a new budget is passed anyway, she said.
But she hopes the release of the RFP in the next several months yields some good possibilities for some of the buildings.
"We know the public supports them and wants to see them open," she said.
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