Task force unveils plan for city rec centers

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The city's Recreation Center Task Force has unveiled its final recommendations in a nine-page document that outlines a long-term plan for Denver's 29 recreation centers.

The doc, released late last week, differs from previous drafts in a few key ways, according to Denver Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Jill McGranahan. After hearing complaints that the small centers were being singled out for privatization, the task force now recommends considering business partnerships at any of them. Under the partnerships, a private for-profit or non-profit organization would run the center's day-to-day operations, while the city would still own the building and the land.

It's a proposal born of necessity. The city is growing, McGranahan says, but Parks and Recreation "is in a financial holding pattern." The partnerships could keep the centers afloat.

The task-force recommendations call for assuring that "partners are a good fit for the local community" and providing them with training and a community advisory committee to hold them accountable.

The recommendations also call for a new fee structure based on tiers of service. Whereas the task force previously recommended grouping the rec centers into four tiers, it now suggests three.

"Neighborhood centers" would be the smallest, and would serve the needs of their immediate area. Twelve centers, including Globeville and MLK, would fall into this category. Memberships to neighborhood centers would be cheapest.

"Local centers" would be medium-sized, likely have pools and standard programming, and serve a larger geographic area. The plan envisions twelve local centers, including Eisenhower and Hiawatha Davis.

"Regional centers" would be the largest and have pools, gyms, weight rooms, multi-purpose rooms and classrooms. Eight centers, including Rude and Montclair, would be classified as "regional." The centers would serve a broad geographic area and collaborate with local libraries and schools.

Belonging to a regional center would be the most expensive -- but it's unclear how much more expensive. The task force recommends increasing the adult membership fee, which is currently $150 a year and provides access to all 29 centers, regardless of whether users go to a tiny center or a big one with more amenities. The new fee structure would allow people to choose what they want to pay for, though it's likely that those who use pools and gyms would pay more than they do now. It's also possible that the fees could differ from center to center depending on who runs the place.

For kids, however, the task force recommends dropping the price. Instead of charging $35 a year, it suggests charging only $5 a year "to encourage every youth to have a membership."

The final recommendations will be presented to Denver City Council's public amenities committee at 10:30 a.m. on April 22. Parks and Recreation Manager Kevin Patterson will be tasked with implementing the plan over the next several years.

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