Decision made; it's time to move beyond dispute on rec center Editorial

Posted: Friday, November 07, 2003

Give it a chance to work.

That's our best advice to Kenai residents still angry over the process that led to the Kenai City Council earlier this week unanimously approving a two-year management contract with the Boys and Girls Club of the Kenai Peninsula to run the Kenai Recreation Center. Dragging this dispute out is a waste of valuable time, energy and resources.

The center, which has been closed since early July because of the controversy and ensuing legal flap, is slated to reopen by Dec. 1. It can't happen too soon for the center's fans and users.

Let's hope people will put their differences aside on this issue and work together to make the rec center and the Teen Center, which is housed there, even more integral to the community than they were before this controversy began.

The Boys and Girls Club has invited the public's ideas and club officials have said they would like to meet with the city's Parks and Recreation Commission and the Friends of the Kenai Recreation Center, both groups that opposed the management change.

The olive branch has been extended. "We honestly need your help to make this work. We're wide open and we request your participation," said Peter Micciche, president of the Boys and Girls Club's board of directors, at Wednesday's council meeting.

The best thing opponents of the change can do is gracefully accept the Boys and Girls Club's invitation and begin working with the new managers to make it a successful venture. At the very least, they can find another cause and let the Boys and Girls Club prove itself.

Change is almost always difficult, but it shouldn't be as divisive as this one has been. Vigorous debate is a sign of a healthy community, but those on opposing sides of an issue should be able to shake hands once a decision is made. We hope that will be the case with those who have disagreed on this issue. There may be no better lesson for Kenai's young people than for them to see all those who have been involved in this debate no matter what position they took working together to make the rec center's operations successful.

It's important to remember city officials first proposed the change and have continued to pursue it as a way to cut spending and yet save popular programs. The city estimates it will save $74,000 by having the club run the center. We applaud the city for watching the bottom line and preserving services. It's doing what lots of people tell government to do all the time: don't take away services but don't spend as much money providing them.

With the approval of the contract with the Boys and Girls Club, the rec joins the ranks of other city-owned facilities that are managed by private groups. Others include the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center, the fire training center and the ice rink. Unless the city learns to grow some kind of money tree, more outsourcing of city services is likely in the years ahead.

That puts a lot of pressure on the Boys and Girls Club. Everything the organization does in relationship to the rec center will be examined under a microscope. That's not a bad thing; in the end, it could result in the city of Kenai having among the best adult and youth recreation programs anywhere.

The club just needs to be given a fair chance to do what it has been asked to do. If it doesn't meet its obligations, the city should not renew its contract. It's as simple as that.

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