Coming Thursday: City officials discuss rec future
As the city of Clinton maneuvers through a Recreation Department transition, it solicited feedback from the public at a Recreation Advisory Board meeting Monday night to aid in future planning. The meeting was called the first in a series of such forums that will take place in the coming months.
“The purpose of the meeting is to receive input from you, the citizens, in regard to transition and changes going on at the Recreation Department, whether it be physical improvements at Royal Lane or other parks, whether it be programs or whether it be operational,” said assistant manager Shawn Purvis. “This is all to receive feedback from you all, what you like, what you don’t like, what you would consider important, what’s not important.”
Purvis said the Recreation Advisory Board is not a voting board, but works with city staff to help make recommendations to City Council for policy decisions. “They value your feedback and your comments, and that’s what their goal is,” the assistant manager said.
City manager John Connet jotted notes on a flip chart as a dozen different people spoke to their concerns, ranging from seniors who did not want to be forgotten to nostalgic youth athletics proponents who wanted recreation to revert back to its past glory.
Golden Age Fun Club member Ruth Roderick spoke about the group, which meets every Friday night at the Bellamy Center. The club has been meeting at the center since 1975, a way of allowing an aging community to get together and fellowship while assisting the local community. Among its outreach, the club has a 76ers band that performs for nursing homes, civic and senior groups at no charge.
“We have a long history in this city,” said Roderick. “We are active in this community and we feel we our an asset to this community and we feel we represent the city of Clinton well. Needless to say, the Golden Age Fun Club is a source of fellowship for seniors. At this time in our lives, there are few places to meet for social and civic needs. Our age brings its own type of loneliness and the Golden Age Fun Club helps relieve this situation. We are beginning to feel like the red-haired stepchild of the city.”
Roderick said the group has had its services cut and a small fee implemented for facility rental, which has forced some to leave the club because of their fixed income. “We are good citizens and we feel we should be afforded our fair share,” she said. “We have no problems with the city paying attention to our youth and their programs.”
She said the problem arises when city staff says they will focus on youth athletics, which they have noted make up 70 percent or more of total recreation participation.
“Does that mean the other 30 percent should be short-changed?” asked Roderick. “We feel there has to be a share for each of us. We’re asking you to do the right thing for all age groups. Because God-willing, everyone in this room will be seniors one day.”
Joyce Hill reiterated Roderick’s concerns, addressing the importance for senior programs. She said, outside of church, many seniors do not have social programs readily available to them. “Please keep this in mind as you are developing plans for the future use of the Bellamy Center,” she said.
‘A diamond in
Resident John Clark said it was not about young versus old, but everyone working together and splitting a pot of money — one that has gotten smaller.
“It seems to me that somehow perception has come about in the community that we have young folks trying to go against the old folks,” Clark said. “We don’t need that kind of divisiveness in the community. I don’t think that anybody here on behalf of the youth would like the seniors to lose anything. It should be everyone working together, sharing the dollars that are there. There’s going to be less dollars, but we can share the dollars and still get what everybody wants to happen.”
Clark said he grew up playing baseball at Fisher Drive and then Royal Lane, where he knew Walker Bellamy and Larry Bell and others and they knew him. Now his children are involved in the recreation program. They have not known the recreation director, he said.
“What I would like to do is get things back to the way they were, so whoever is running the rec department knows the children and the children know them, and they’re involved and we see them on the field,” said Clark. “The director should know what’s happening at their facilities, and they should know to come to you on how to improve them. I believe we have a diamond in the rough at Royal Lane, with a little bit of money spent on the fields … we could bring a lot of things to the city of Clinton from a retail perspective — lodging to hotels to gas stations. I think the focus has been lost out at the rec. I would like to see you all garner that focus and make the Clinton Recreation Department the jewel that it used to be.”
He said it should be a seamless transition, with children involved in the recreation program until they go into high school athletics. Clinton High School football coach Bob Lewis agreed, and said recreational football was once a hotbed for grooming several young local kids who would eventually go on to CHS, college and eventually the pros. He said he wanted to see it be the feeder football program it once was.
For the longest time, rec football practice started at the same time as school football, Lewis said. He said his biggest concern was that a later start time for rec football meant darkness, cold and rain impeding the program during fall and winter months.
“I’m not so sure that you’re missing a lot of folks because of that late starting time,” Lewis said. “We would like to see you go back to the earlier starting time, in hopes of involving more kids.”
Randy Barefoot said rec programs assist in providing children constructive social and physical activity, building bonds among the youth while facilitating middle and high school athletics. It also makes that child a better student and person, he said.
“The rec department, since I grew up here, has been a feeder program for every sport that I know of,” said Barefoot. “It all starts with the young kids, whether it’s soccer, football, baseball, volleyball, basketball, the involvement with our community has gone downhill. I commend the city in taking these strides in trying to enhance Clinton City. To set the groundwork in the rec department means a lot. I can still remember times at the rec department. It gives you roots here, and that’s what I think we need to instill in our young folks.”
In the past, Barefoot said, recreation staff has worked 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., when 3 to 9 p.m. would probably be better hours, so evening practices and programs could be supervised. There are an inordinate amount of volunteers running programs late at night, he said.
“We should have somebody there representing the Rec Department,” said Barefoot. “I commend you guys in taking the step forward and hopefully to update all of our parks.”
Nettie Pernell said, with all the talk about Royal Lane Park and the Bellamy Center, she did not want the city to forget about Newkirk Park.
“I know a lot of the emphasis has been about the Bellamy Center and Royal Lane and I know they are much larger, but we have been doing a lot of improvements at Newkirk Park,” said Pernell. “Please do not forget about us. We are small but we are trying to get the community involved in making it a family-oriented park. We want it to be one of the premier parks. We feel that we need those funds to stay in our neighborhood as well.”
Johnnie Boykin, also a member of the Newkirk Park Committee, said a larger goal was to ensure children had a place to go.
“We need to do something about our young people, to keep them out of the streets,” said Boykin, noting there used to be “a mass of people” at local recreational facilities. A push toward renewing that old glory was needed. “We need to get all the parks involved. The parks went down. We need to bring them back up.”
Bill Bacon brought up the need for a safe place to walk, especially at night, with lighted walkways. Others talked of a lack of communication between the recreation department and parents. There are plenty of volunteers available, but they need to have the adequate information from rec officials to do a good job, they said.
Jason Walters, who has been involved in coordinating rec and soccer programs, echoed that sentiment, saying an easier volunteer process and simpler information dissemination was necessary. There are a vast amount of volunteers, but there is no master list.
As far as facilities, Walters said there are some that are underutilized and others that may not receive as much attention because they are hidden to the outside public. “You do have a diamond in the rough,” said Walters. “It’s just a matter of utilizing it.”
‘Going to make
City manager John Connet thanked those who attended the forum and said it is a continuing effort by the city to prioritize needs and develop a long-range plan to meet them.
“The purpose of this is to hear back from you,” said Connet. “As you can see, there’s lot of needs and lots of wants. We’re working hard to come up with a long range plan. We’ll be taking this information back to the Adivosry Board over the next nine to 10 months to come up with a long range plan.”
Connet said, while a shift to youth athletics and improvement of facilities is the focus, that will not come to the detriment of established senior programs.
“By no means am I saying we are going to stop having the Bridge Club at the Bellamy Center or prevent the Golden Age Fun Club from using the Bellamy Center. Those are existing programs — we actually want to look at ways to enhance those programs,” Connet said. “We want to enhance programs at the Sampson Center. We want to continue what we have done the last several years at Newkirk Park. But we are going to have to prioritize everything we do and put a little bit in each pot.”
Expanding the baseball fields at Royal Lane was an immediate priority, he said, so that the venue might host more outside tournaments and, in turn, bring revenue into Clinton and the surrounding area. Connet said more tournaments can be hosted if the city simply adjusts its fields to adhere to Little League regulations, a move urged by coaches for years.
That effort is under way and will take place over the next six to eight months, Connet noted.
The city manager said it was important that everyone understand that prioritizing needs has become a necessary evil. Royal Lane was built in the 1970s with all grant money, and those funds are simply not there anymore. That leaves the city to foot the bill to repair, renovate and expand the facilities to meet increased demand for services and programs. Participation in all sports has remained steady and soccer, for one, has boomed.
Connet said it was on city staff and the Rec Advisory Board to work closely with the public in order to make recommendations to Council that would see that everyone was looked after in regard to recreation.
“A lot of the facilities that have been built are coming to the end of their useful life,” said Connet. “We’ve got demand and we’ve got to find ways to put it all together and make it happen. We know the programs are there for our youth and for our seniors and for all segments of our population. We’re going to try and develop a plan to continue that and make it better. That’s our commitment — we’re going to make it better.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.