Meadville Tribune

March 20, 2013

Time for neighbors to ‘dive in’ and determine the future of our recreational facility

Meadville Tribune

MEADVILLE — Almost 50 years ago, a group of neighbors sat around a picnic table and talked about ways to make the greater Meadville area a better place to raise a family. The group was made up of moms and dads — not professionals, business leaders or boards-of-directors. Our neighbors from generations past sat around that picnic table and out of concern for our children’s health and well-being, decided to give to us a wonderful gift. The gift our forefathers gave us was the gift of community.

For more than 40 years, the Meadville Area Recreational Complex (MARC) has provided a beneficial service to this community. Millions of hard-earned dollars and exhaustive work have kept this community asset operational. Families have grown up together with a sense of community because of that vision from long ago and the resolve of the community to support the vision. We have not been maintaining just a pool and ice rink, we’ve been building and nurturing an “idea.” That “idea” is what makes our community special.

Our forefathers’ idea was simple: to build and operate the best possible recreational facilities the community could afford, and make them open to all. They agreed to include the Crawford Central School District in the plan to ensure that every child had access to the facilities through curriculum and athletic participation (this is why the MARC is located next to the high school). They wanted the best for our children and for all families of this community. They insisted the benefits be available to everybody, which is why the funding support is broad-based and why the school district was made a stakeholder.

Our elected officials have served us well up to this point. Despite limited resources, the MARC has been managed well. We have nice facilities that are being used by many families. Crawford Central has been effective at exercising the will of the community as well. Every child in our school system has access to the facilities. The school board so far has upheld the commitment we have made to utilize the MARC. Is it perfect? No. Are there ways to improve on the big idea of community-supported recreation? Can we appeal to a broader base of our community? We think so.

Our community is at a crossroads. The current economic pressures have contributed to a situation where the “boards” (of the school district and the MARC) are having a difficult time finding solutions that are in alignment with our community wishes. Because of this, a group of neighbors has gathered to discuss a new approach to solving these issues. We believe the problem is not funding, personalities or politics. We believe the problem is the table. That’s right; we are trying to solve the problem at the wrong table. Instead of boards “negotiating” over a conference table, our team suggests we need to gather around the picnic table again in order to move forward. They are our assets. They are our children.

We believe we need to gather around the picnic table to have a community conversation. We believe the best way to do this is to “excuse” the boards from that conversation. The community can decide the definition of “our will.” When we can communicate our will, our officials will again be able to serve that will.

Over the next several weeks and months, this group of concerned citizens will facilitate a community conversation. We will bring an accurate summary of the history of recreation in our community. We will put the MARC and the current “partnership” in appropriate historical context. We will communicate the value as well as the investments that have been realized over the past 42 years. We will frame the current state of operations in a fact-based report that covers all aspects of the resource: assets, operations, culture, organizational structure, governance and finance.

What is our motivation?

- We believe that the simple idea of community owned and operated recreation is too important and has been too heavily invested in by this community to have short-sighted political concerns jeopardize the benefits.

- We believe the curriculum choices for our children should continue to be made by the families of this community and implemented by our elected officials.

- We believe as a community, we demand that our assets be respected, maintained and utilized in accordance to our community will. A dark gym is the same as a dark pool to the taxpayer. If we built it for our children, we would like it to be used by our children.

- We believe we have perspective, talent and resources that have not been available to resolve these issues.

- We believe that if this community understands the facts and is presented with clear choices and solutions, we will come together to support a direction, a future.

- We believe with community consensus and committed support we can help our elected officials successfully accomplish our goals.

- To pass our gift on to our children and grandchildren is a wonderful gift in itself. It would also be a wonderful gift to the generation that gave it to us.

The fundamental questions we need to answer at the picnic table are: Do we want to remain committed to the concept of community-supported recreation? What are the costs, what are the benefits? How can we expand and update our services so that every member of the community benefits? How can we demonstrate the impact on our quality of life?

If we cannot present choices that deliver those benefits, we will consider private options. But understand; if we choose that direction, there may still be a pool and a rink at least for a while. But we won’t own it anymore. It won’t be ours. We will not decide how it feels or how it works for us. It will not necessarily be open to all of us anymore.

We hope all community members will support and participate in our journey. We do not pretend to know the answers, but we are passionate, and we care about the future of this community. We will be following this letter with more detailed plans and opportunities for you all to be at the table — the picnic table.

Sincerely, your neighbors: