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Recreation Center Closures Part of Mayor's Prosposed 2009 Budget

Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman proposed the city's 2009 budget. The $643 million budget includes cuts to public services. Among those are closures to almost half of the city's recreation centers.

Columbus has 30 recreation centers throughout the city, and depending on the final budget that is passed as many as 12 could close.

Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman said the city has made every effort to reduce the centers' costs by cutting staff, increasing fees and reducing hours of operation. But the mayor said it's still not enough.

"We want to continue offering programs, locations may change. We have to balance this out in a fair way the best we can," Coleman said.

Recreation center closings are part of a $5 million budget cut in the Recreation and Parks Department. Several pools will also shut down.

Recreation and Parks Director Alan McKnight said as many as 51 people will be laid off throughout the department.

"Tough decisions have to be made. You know, I'd love to keep all these centers open, and I'm hoping this is, as the mayor indicated, a short-term problem," McKnight said.

Coleman noted if the economy improves and more city revenue is discovered the recreation center and pools could re-open in 2010.

Children play basketball inside the gym at the Far East Recreation Center.

"We are frequent fliers if you will. We are here every Friday," Tonya Goins from Columbus said.

Goins is part of a group of parents who home school their children. They meet at the Far East Rec. Center every week. Goins said her children also take ceramics and art at the facility.

"We found this to be the most convenient for us. So it would be to our disadvantage. We'd have to travel quite a ways," she said.

Erica Sampson from Reynoldsburg is part of the home school group. Sampson said, if this center were to close, her children could always use their neighborhood's local playground in warm months, but she's not sure where they would go during winter.

"I know it would sadden my children. They get to come and meet with their other friends and you know have a good time," Sampson said.

Stephanie Hunt also uses the city's recreation center often. She said her sons take guitar lessons and her toddlers take gymnastics.

"I wouldn't want any of them to close because we don't use just this rec. center, we use a lot of the rec. centers around the city. This is out east, but we go to the rec. center out west, to the Dodge Rec. Center, we do swimming out there. We go to Thompson's for their aquatics pool during the wintertime. So it's not just this one. It would be very sad to see any of them to close at this point just because when you have kids it's just something for them to do," Hunt said.

Coleman said the closures will be city-wide and will depend on several things such as how much the center is used and whether other facilities are nearby.