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Adult recreation centers face cuts

Budget concerns force reductions in hours and staff.

By CRISTINA SILVA, Times Staff Writer
Published August 19, 2007


Senior citizens are the latest group to be affected by the city's proposed budget cuts.

Service hours at the city's adult centers will be reduced by 40 percent, said Jay Morgan, manager of the Office on Aging.

The adult centers offer a variety of educational and social programs, including courses in painting, French, dancing and martial arts.

Morgan said he was concerned about how the city's elderly population will be affected.

"I don't want to get into if this was fair; this is the decision that was made," he said. "We were basically given marching orders, and this is the plan we came up with."

The total adult center staff of 15 will be reduced to eight, and instead of one supervisor overseeing each center, one person will oversee all three adult centers.

Azalea Recreation Center will now be closed on Fridays. Bay Vista Recreation Center will be closed Mondays and Fridays. Roberts Adult Center will not be affected, because it shares space with a recreation center that provides services to neighborhood children.

The reduced hours will go into effect Sept. 1.

One of the other major changes will involve neighborhood associations, which were able to use the centers free of charge in the past. Now, they will have to rent out the space, Morgan said.

That news has been greeted with groans from members of the affected civic organizations.

"It is going to cost us $20 an hour to hold our meetings there now," said Dominick Griesi, president of the Azalea Homes Community Association, which holds its meetings at the Azalea center. "That is a big deal to any nonprofit organization."

If the association moves its meetings to another location, it could hurt attendance, Griesi said.

"It's kind of like highway robbery, but there is nothing we can do about it," he said. "It's our center; it's our neighborhood; we pay taxes; we should be able to use it."

Barbara Hawkins, president of the Greater Pinellas Point Civic Association, which meets at the Bay Vista center, is already looking for another meeting site.

The new policy is a big hassle, she said.

"It's not just a matter of moving the meeting," she said. "It is a matter of notifying everyone."

This isn't the first time controversy has surrounded the city's adult centers.

In 1994, residents complained when the city said it would tear down the homely little building that formerly housed the Bay Vista center and replace it with a structure at a different site. After much deliberation, city officials decided to keep the new building at Bay Vista Waterfront Park. A few years before that, the center was scheduled to close to help balance the budget. Neighbors mobilized and lobbied the City Council until the city agreed to keep it open.

Hawkins said the city staff should take advantage of Bay Vista's spectacular views of the Sunshine Skyway bridge and rent out the facility for parties and weddings to earn extra dollars instead of reducing service hours. "It's a beautiful location, and the way that it was built, it has windows all across that look out into the water," she said. "It's an ideal setting."

Cristina Silva can be reached at 727 893-8846 or csilva@sptimes.com.

Fast Facts:

City adult centers by the numbers

Visitors to the centers in 2006

36,000 Azalea Recreation Center

16,000 Bay Vista Recreation Center

14,000 Roberts Adult Center

Source: Office on Aging