By Mary Spicer
The Meadville Tribune
In the weeks he’s been working on an analysis of current operations at Meadville Area Recreation Complex, Rob Smith has arrived at one major conclusion. “It’s confusing,” Smith told Crawford Central School Board Monday night. “I have learned enough to know that I really need to know a heck of a lot more.”
And that, he added is going to take time.
Smith, a Meadville resident, owner of Acutec Precision Machining Inc. in Saegertown and former school board member, was joined by two other members of the Community Advisory Team — Crawford County Commissioner Jack Lynch and businessman Doug Lang of Ainsworth Pet Products. CAT was formed in March with the goal of guiding Meadville Area Recreation Complex into a thriving future.
During the school board’s monthly work session, they presented “Proposal for Crawford Central School District: The Future of Community Recreation.”
“We come in peace,” Lynch assured the board.
CAT came into being in the wake of a town hall meeting convened in early February by Meadville Area Recreation Authority to explore revenue-generating alternatives for MARC. After decades of financial support for the MARC — amounting to $260,000 per year at the highest level — the school board announced that its phase-out will be complete as of the end of June and no general MARC funding will be included in the district’s 2013-14 budget, which goes into effect July 1.
“MARC always counted on money from the school,” Smith said. “In the last year and a half, they were told what was going to happen — but they didn’t know what to do about it, so they did nothing.”
Stressing the complexity of the task before them, CAT’s written presentation included a plea for short-term funding while a long-term plan is being worked out. “We believe $170k for one year will stabilize things and allow us all to work for common solutions and resolution. This level represents 15 percent to 25 percent savings compared to historic contribution levels.”
In exchange, according to the written portion of the presentation, the district gets the pool, the Bulldog baseball field, the ice rink, the Bulldog tennis facility, the Bulldog soccer field, the lacrosse field and cooperation utilizing facilities, helping the school district succeed.
One of CAT’s main goals, according to Lang, is to get discussion about the recreation needs — and possible solutions — going in a way it simply hasn’t gone before.
As for the facility itself, the group sees three areas of opportunity: Implementing strategic leadership, managerial best practices and marketing strategies that will optimize asset utilization, identify customer needs and create value-added solutions.
Finding those solutions, the group agreed, will include extensive interaction with a long list of components of the community: all partner municipalities, including the school district; all current MARC users, including the school district; all community athletic organizations; Allegheny College; Meadville Medical Center; other community recreation providers; and community employers.
“We have a lot of recreational silos in this community,” Smith observed.
“We have a lot of underutilized assets,” Lang added. “The YMCA, Meadville Medical Center and the rec authority need to get together — and leave their egos at the door. There has to be a user revenue stream — not just the school board.”
Stressing that he wants to jump on the journey, not hash over the past, “we need the vision to look beyond the facility and see what this community needs,” Lang said. “Can MARC volunteers reinvigorate the city’s summer park programs?”
Noting that his group already has lots of ideas and is looking for more, he called repeatedly on the school board to get involved in the CAT process. “It may mean closing the pool,” he said. “Who knows? We want you back.”
Mary Spicer can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.