Area residents protest Osage center closing

About 100 people came to the Linwood Recreation Center on Wednesday night to hear details of the city's plans to close one recreation center and restructure the management of the eight others.

Several strong protests were lodged about a proposal to close the 53-year-old Osage Recreation Center at 2121 W. 31st St. South.

But most of those in the audience seemed to think there was little they could do about the looming budget-cutting changes that lie ahead for the city's recreation centers.

Karen Philip, who takes exercise classes at Edgemoor Recreation Center, said it appeared to her that city officials have made up their minds about how to operate the centers.

"I don't feel like they listened to us," she said after the meeting. "The bottom line is always money. Sometimes I think if you cut in the wrong place, you shoot yourself in the foot. You may regret it later."

During the meeting, Philip told Wichita City Manager Robert Layton that she was troubled by his proposal to change the structure of the management of the centers.

"I think you need a leader and an assistant at every center," she said.

Under the plan outlined by Layton, the city's eight centers would be placed into four quadrants that each would have its own director.

The south quadrant would consist of Linwood, Aley-Stanley and Colvin recreation centers. The east quadrant would consist of the Edgemoor, McAdams and Lynette Woodard centers.

The west quadrant would consist of the Orchard Park center, and the north quadrant would consist of the Evergreen center.

Layton said those last two centers were among the city's busiest. Because they are geographically isolated, he said, it makes sense to place them in their own quadrants.

Under the proposal, the city would form a partnership with a group that would operate the Boston Recreation Center on a trial basis. All current programs would remain intact at Boston, Layton said, and the new operators would be encouraged to start new ones.

Among those who protested the proposed Osage closing was a 65-year-old man who said he's lived near the center for 30 years.

"What's it going to save, $80,000?" he asked Layton. "If I remember correctly, the city recently paid about $1 million for the conduct of police officers. That would keep Osage open for 10 years."

The man apparently was referring to a $925,000 settlement the city reached last month with a man who suffered internal injuries during his 2006 arrest.

Closing Osage would save the city $75,281 a year in operating costs. Layton said that doesn't include the cost of staffing the center.

Another man offered Layton a different comparison.

"If you want to save the city money, why don't you close a golf course?" he asked.

Layton said Osage has lagged the city's other recreation centers for years.

"If I felt we could turn that around, I wouldn't be making this recommendation," he said.

Among those who were concerned about the proposed changes was Bill Huffman, who is on the board of directors of the Wichita Independents Special Olympics.

Huffman said the nonprofit group uses Osage and two other recreation centers to help train 285 mentally and physically disabled athletes.

"There's a lot of people that care about this," he told Layton. "There's a lot of people that this affects."

Layton said he was aware of the group's use of the centers and was confident that their access to city-owned facilities would not change.

A second meeting on proposed changes in the city's Park and Recreation Department will be held at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Lynette Woodard Gymnasium, 2750 E. 18th St.

The meetings are follow-ups to public sessions that the city conducted at its 10 recreation centers this fall.

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