Local residents are being encouraged to help guide the city of Clinton through a transition in its Recreation Department, a process that has already started but for which further public input is being sought toward developing a long-range plan.
Anyone who has an interest in the Clinton Recreation Department, wishes to share comments or wants to ask questions is invited to attend the upcoming Recreation Advisory Board meeting, slated for 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 24, in the Clinton City Hall Auditorium.
“We are in a transition period as we look for our next recreation director and this is a great time to get feedback from the people we serve,” said city manager John Connet. “I hope everyone who has an interest in our program will attend our meeting and give us their feedback. We want to hear from all stakeholders of our recreation program.”
The future of city recreation was laid out during a special City Council meeting last month. At that meeting, Connet said “everything is on the table … as far as how we move forward with recreation.” City staff, including Connet and assistant manager Shawn Purvis, floated a proposal that would predominantly focus on youth athletics, noting 75 to 80 percent of the city’s overall recreation participation fell in that category.
Connet has noted that recent developments within the recreation department, including the departure of director Judi Nicholson in July, presented a good opportunity for introspection and discussion as to what the City Council wanted to see as the future of recreation. The city manager conceded that the city has not been providing a “top-notch level of service that I would like for us to provide,” and said resources were needed for renovations at Royal Lane Park.
Along with a shift toward athletics would be a move away from smaller programs utilized by a much lesser contingent of people, those which may be better served through partnerships. That staff time and those resources could be better utilized through improvements at Royal Lane Park, Connet said.
The city manager said maintaining and enhancing programs and activities at the Sampson Center, Bellamy Center and the various parks across Clinton was a goal of city staff. To that end, staff was exploring avenues to reorganize, where funds can be taken from the operational side and put it in the capital side toward repairs. There are “some great opportunities” toward renovating sports facilities if money can be freed up, he said.
“We really want to step back and focus on youth athletic program, to make sure we are providing a good product and a good level of service, and see if we can squeeze dollars out of our operation costs,” Connet said last month. “There’s no new dollars out there to drop into recreation so we need to find a way to reorganize. If we could spend a couple hundred thousand dollars over several years on the maintenance side, we could really get the park where we want it to be.
The City Council voted on nothing at the August meeting, but essentially agreed that was the direction in which the city should head, with Connet giving assurances that any individual step along the way would be brought back to Council.
Bringing the matter to the public, and soliciting their feedback is the next step toward formulating a long-range plan for Council to consider. Following the meeting, a report detailing the comments will be prepared for the Recreation Advisory Board, whose members will then develop the long-range plan for the Recreation Department and present that information to the Clinton City Council.
“It is expected that the development of this long-range plan will take approximately nine months,” said Connet. “However, the Clinton City Council will be considering several improvement projects in the coming months that will enhance the appearance and functionality of Royal Lane Park.”
Those improvement projects, discussed in general last month, include enlarging the park’s baseball fields, relocating lights and putting up new fencing. In addition to the baseball field needs, there are also renovations being considered at the tennis courts — cutting the number of courts by half, focusing maintenance on the remaining four and freeing up space for other facilities. That could very well be another soccer field, the need for which has also been discussed by city officials.
“The City Council and I are committed to strong recreation program,” Mayor Lew Starling said. “As we develop a long-range plan for the department, we want to show our commitment by addressing some of the ongoing maintenance and organizational issues that have been brought to our attention.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.