Meadville Tribune

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March 20, 2013

Group working to make rec complex thrive

MEADVILLE — Ensuring that Crawford Central School District students continue to have swimming as part of the curriculum and that the Meadville Area Recreational Complex not only survives, but thrives, is the goal of group calling itself the Community Advisory Team.

CAT representatives are working on a plan to lay out and provide to the public a comprehensive history of the MARC, including its intended purpose, an accounting of the facility’s current condition and visioning sessions to determine and build consensus around a direction for the facility’s future. The group’s hope is that the process leads to a plan that will supplement or change the MARC in such a way that it is aligned with current community needs and generates more and new revenue in an effort to address the school district’s interest in decreasing the amount of money it provides to the facility.

The school district’s financial contribution is one of the first hurdles the CAT faces as it believes the district must continue its current level of funding in order to allow time for the visioning process to work and for changes at the MARC to be put in place. CAT members are concerned that if the district completely cuts is contribution, as it intends to do by the start of next year, the MARC will have no choice but to reduce services and that doing so may lead the facility into a tailspin that may lead to its closure.

As things now stand, the beginning of the 2014 fiscal year, which starts Jan. 1, will mark the first time that the district will not be a major funding partner. In fact, until this year, the school district, which has used the complex to provide swimming lessons for all of the district’s fourth graders as well as swimming classes as part of the physical education curriculum for students in middle and high school, had provided approximately 25 percent of the operating revenue for the MARC, whose annual operating budget totals approximately $1 million.

From a high of $260,000 several years ago, the district’s contribution had fallen to just over $100,000 in 2013 and is expected to drop to zero in the district’s 2013-14 budget.

After several years of warning that funding may be eliminated, the district’s school board made the move in reaction to cuts in the district’s funding made at the state level.

CAT representatives have met with representatives of the school board and floated the idea that continuing current funding is what is needed at minimum to keep the MARC intact while new plans are worked out. CAT representatives said that they respect the school board’s decision to cut funding given the circumstances in place when the decision was made. However, with the CAT effort now moving forward, CAT members have asked that school board members reconsider their stance in light of the new circumstances.

“In a very positive, open way, this community group is trying to force a discussion that is long overdue,” school board President Jan VanTuil said Tuesday, noting that important questions — what the MARC should look like, what should its function be and who should it serve, for example — must be asked and answered.

“I think that the school district is part of the MARC picture, or certainly would like to continue to be part of that picture, but there are a lot of obstacles to overcome,” she added. “Although the district wants to be part of the discussion and part of the solution, we can’t solve the MARC’s financial crisis.”

As for keeping a funding stream in place while the discussion continues, “I wish that discussion about continuing support had taken place two years ago when we warned that this was coming,” VanTuil said.

“I welcome the process,” she continued. “I think it’s good for the future of the MARC. In fact, if the MARC is going to continue, it has to happen.” Once the questions have been answered and a direction found, she added, the time for the school district to start talking about a financial contribution will begin.

School board member Jon DeArment agreed. “I’m very optimistic,” he said. I think they’ve got a great group of people and I’ve already told them I’d offer any support. Hopefully there’s a solution that can be found.”

CAT representatives have also met with MARC’s executive committee, and they’ve signaled their willingness to participate.

“There has been a very encouraging response as we have talked to people,” CAT member Doug Lang said of initial discussions with the school and MARC boards. “Everybody has said they are a part of the solution.”

“It went extremely well,” CAT member Jack Lynch said. “This has to be a team effort.”

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