A proposed rec center in Round Rock, Texas, becomes political dynamite.
When recreation centers are slated for closure due to projected budget shortfalls, the resistance from the community usually goes something like this: "There's a lot of kids that come here, and if they close this down, it'd really hurt the neighborhood." So spoke Cincinnati's LaShon Johnson, who, according to WLTW reports, was arguing against city manager Milton Dohoney's June recommendation to shutter the neighborhood pool where Johnson takes her grandchildren.
Indeed, recreation facilities are on the whole perceived as safe havens that provide positive and healthy environments for young people. In the Austin, Texas, suburb of Round Rock, however, a group of concerned citizens has cast a proposed recreation center on high school property as the outlaw.
"We fight like crazy as educators to secure our campus," Round Rock High School social studies teacher Pat Loter told the Austin American-Statesman. "You can't justify the rationale to build any facility that puts students at risk more than they normally are."
Voters passed a referendum in 2001, and bonds were sold last summer, for the proposed Legacy Fieldhouse, an approximately $8 million, 50,000-square-foot facility that will include a large synthetic turf field, an 8,000-square-foot fitness area, an elevated track and group exercise rooms, among other amenities.
The initial plan - agreed upon by the city and the school district - was to place the center on a Round Rock High School sports field, adjacent to a city-run pool that also sits on the school campus (and which the high school swim team currently pays to rent). The city offered to lease the land for the approximately $900,000 cost that the school district had planned on contributing to a new access road that will make possible a separate, additional high school in another part of town. "We've said, 'Let's partner as a city and as a school district,'" says Round Rock parks and recreation director Rick Atkins. "We think it's a pretty easy win-win."
Atkins says "the rub" began when members of the high school athletics booster club caught wind of the plan and successfully argued that the center should be moved to a campus parking lot, rather than taking away a sports field. "Now they're trying to say it shouldn't even go there because it's a safety issue, even though the city knows it's not a safety issue at all," says Atkins. "There are countless relationships around the country that are set up like this that are very successful. The city and the school district were on the same page on this until it became a political issue. It's been an eye-opening experience for me."
Even though Round Rock schools superintendent JesÃºs ChavÃ©z has described the plan to the Statesman as "beneficial to taxpayers" and an "efficient use of resources," several people with school ties continue to suggest that a new rec center could attract the suburb's seedier characters. "There will be students getting out of their cars at all hours of the day, especially if they're in extracurricular activities," parent Mark Gold told the Statesman. "You don't know who's going to be out there. I'm not saying Round Rock is rampant with criminals, but in this day and age, nothing is safe anymore."