Editorial: Community Center Area's Most Important Rec Amenity

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Copyright 2013 The Topeka Capital-Journal
All Rights Reserved

Topeka Capital-Journal (Kansas)
September 9, 2013 Monday
439 words
Editorial: Communities need community center

East Topeka residents whose families and friends use the Juan "Poppy" Abbott Community Center don't want the recent closure of the facility to become a permanent condition.

Shawnee County commissioners and Shawnee County Parks and Recreation Department officials should work diligently to ensure it isn't.

The turnout for a public meeting on the community center's fate was an indication of how attached residents have become to the center, which has been a part of their lives for decades. Their words reinforced the message they were trying to send parks and recreation officials, who closed the center Sept. 1 after terminating the county's contract with the organization that had operated it for the past 15 years.

County officials and members of the management group have different views on the motives for closing Juan "Poppy" Abbott, but that is a moot point now. The center's future is what's important.

Residents who turned out for the meeting urged county officials to keep the center open, saying it was vital to the neighborhood, the children in the area and East Topeka. Those who spoke are in the best position to know the center's significance to the community and their message should be heeded.

To be fair, county officials who attended the meeting insisted the center wouldn't remain closed but gave no indication when it would reopen or what services and programs would be offered. County recreation director Randy Luebbe noted he had to find the money for the center somewhere in the department's budget and said he would be evaluating every community center.

Exactly what that means for the other centers wasn't discussed, and may have been news to the residents who use those facilities.

People who follow local government closely know the parks and recreation department's budget for 2014 was reduced from this year's funding level by $1.5 million. No one is suggesting the funding cut was a mistake, especially as the department's budget still is a significant amount of money.

The job now is to find money for the community centers within the approved budget.

A poll of residents across Topeka and Shawnee County about what they expect from the parks and recreation department would produce a long list of programs and services - including parks, golf courses, hiking and bicycling trails, aquatic centers (formerly known as swimming pools), public tennis courts, baseball and softball fields, the Topeka Zoo, etc.

Those are all great amenities that speak to the quality of life a community offers. But the most important thing to some people is a community center. The county should do what it can to meet their needs.

September 8, 2013

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