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Mike Fisher (second from right), director of the Meadville Area Recreation Complex, gives a tour of the pool area to Christian Maher (from left), Dwight Haas, Craig Guy and Jay Verno. The four men have donated money to an endowment for MARC and challenge supporters in general to add to it.

When a minor repair stopped a leak that was draining 30,000 gallons of water per day early last fall, the 250,000-gallon swimming pool that is the centerpiece of Meadville Area Recreation Complex’s George J. Barco Aquatic Center dodged a potentially fatal bullet.

If the leak had come from an underground break in the pool’s water line, repair costs would have started around $50,000 and may have gone well over $100,000, according to Executive Director Mike Fisher. And a bill even in the low end of that range would have vastly exceeded Meadville Area Recreation Authority’s ability to pay for the repair.

Things could get even worse. A lot worse.

“The big one we’re all concerned about is the refrigeration system in the ice arena,” Fisher said, speaking of the 200-by-85-foot regulation ice rink that’s the heart of the George S. DeArment Ice Arena. If anything happened to that system, replacing it with an energy-efficient model — a requirement in these days of rising fuel costs — would set the authority back something in the neighborhood of $300,000 to $350,000.

For authority member Jay Verno, the September pool leak served as something of a wake-up call. The Meadville businessman dedicated a portion of his company’s sales for the fourth quarter of 2007 to the MARC, presenting an organizational endowment established with the Crawford Heritage Foundation to benefit the MARC through a total of 3 percent of the purchase price of all color copiers and laser printers sold. By the time the final figures were in, Hagan Business Machines of Meadville had added more than $3,000 to the endowment fund, which was initially established with gifts from foundation directors Dwight Haas and Mark Strausbaugh.

“We’re supporting the endowment to show our appreciation (to Haas and Strausbaugh) and to help ensure the MARC’s continued success,” explained Verno, who is president of Hagan. “A community our size is lucky to have this resource. The sport, exercise and entertainment opportunities they offer are typically found only in larger cities.”

The annual budget of the rec authority, which receives a major portion of its funding from Crawford Central School District, the City of Meadville, and Vernon and West Mead townships, doesn’t include a reserve fund to take care of capital expenses, including major repairs. “The municipalities are our partners, but they provide money to keep the operations side going,” explained authority chairman Joe McDougal.

As for capital improvements, “It’s an issue of long-term solvency,” McDougal continued. “Our user groups are expecting a certain level of service. Conditions. Safety factors. It all goes hand-in-hand.” And while authority members remain confident they’re doing the best they can with the resources available, “it’s not going to get any easier,” he added.

Fisher has a vision of the complex that can’t become reality without an influx of funds beyond what the municipalities are presently willing to contribute.

“We would like to be more than ice and pool,” Fisher said. “We have no room for programs or fitness materials. We’ve talked about collaboration with other agencies to bring them in and make ourselves more rounded — to be able to attract a broader segment of the population.” For now, however, they’re taking things one step at a time.

The Heritage Foundation’s endowment program isn’t the only foundation-based effort to support the MARC. The Meadville Area Recreation Foundation, foundation president Jim Lang recalls, “was started by George DeArment back in the early 1980s as a vehicle to help put major capital dollars into the rec grounds and improve the facility.” Over the years, Lang continued, the foundation has served a variety of functions off-and-on, primarily focusing on special projects. “Generally, funds have gone into the foundation for a specific purpose — and when it was time for things to be paid for, they went back out,” he explained.

The last project the foundation funded was an oil-and-chip application on the roadways of the complex last summer. “That came out of a rapidly-dwindling balance,” Lang said, noting that the current balance is approximately $25,000.



Endowing the future

According to Christian Maher, executive director of Crawford Heritage Foundation, the foundation will begin making quarterly payments to the rec complex as soon as the balance of its endowment reaches $5,000. Maher estimated they’re about $1,000 short of that goal at the present time.

Money given to the Crawford Heritage Foundation stays with the foundation, Maher explained. Any money given to the endowment is permanently invested. ‘We take it and add it to all the other money we have for investment purposes, so it has the power of the other $8 million we’ve got. Each year, we take a flat 4.5 percent and return it to the organization.”

They’ll start small. Once the MARC endowment reaches the $5,000 minimum, for example, $45 will be disbursed each quarter. As the endowment grows, so do the disbursements.



YOU CAN PARTICIPATE

Write to the Crawford Heritage Foundation, PO Box 908, Meadville, Pa. 16335; call 336-5206; or visit www.crawfordheritage.org.

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