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My Neighborhood Needs a Rec Center

Can a neighborhood convince City Hall to reopen a once-thriving, now-closed community building?

Two and half years ago, when we first moved to Renton, our family went for a walk one day in our new neighborhood and ended up at Teasdale Park. I was excited to find a vibrant and well-maintained park alive with activity – a soccer scrimmage for grown-ups was taking place on the lawn, my husband was invited to join a pick-up basketball game on the courts, and several families were gathered around the playground watching their kids play together. I walked up to the building by the park entrance, thinking I could get more information about park activities, classes, camps, and events going on there. Instead I found a sign taped to the door, “Due to budget restrictions we are no longer able to operate the City's community park buildings.”

My heart sank. I peered in the window and saw an empty room full of potential. At the unused foosball table I envisioned teenagers laughing and having fun. I imagined books and board games filling the empty shelves and craft supplies behind the closed cabinet doors. There was a folded-up table leaning against the wall and I pictured it upright, surrounded by kids getting help with homework, sharing a snack, or making craft projects. I could practically hear the buzz of activity that comes with a room full of children interacting with one another, learning, and having fun. Was it the residual energy of a once-thriving, now-closed rec center or the potential energy of once-again-thriving-time in the future? Both, I think. It was at that moment that I knew I had to do whatever I could to make it thrive again.

Shortly afterward, I made some calls to inquire about the building and the possibility of opening it up as an after school program. I learned that the building had been closed for over 5 years and rented out occasionally by private groups, but, due to budget cuts the city had no plans to reopen it on a daily basis. I was discouraged, and looking back, I probably gave up too easily. When my son started school at Talbot Hill Elementary nearby and I found there was no after school program available, I joined the PTO and and became active in finding enrichment programs to bring to the school. Two years later I am proud of the fact that we have brought in Mad Science workshops and once-a week karate, drama, dance, craft classes, and a chess club through the non-profit Eastside Enrichment. Still, these classes can be expensive for families on a limited budget and they don't take the place of consistent daily after school care so I did some research to find out what types of after school programs there are available in Renton. Here's what I found:

  • The Cedar River, Highlands, Skyway, and Fairwood libraries offer StoryTime for younger children, StudyZone tutoring for school-age students, and host the Renton Teen Advisory Board to discuss leadership and volunteer opportunities. Days and times for these activities vary and information can be found on the KCLS website. Most of these programs, however, require parental supervision and transportation if you live in a Renton neighborhood without a library.

  • Downtown Renton has Harambee for teenagers which houses the CryOut! after school program that provides homework help, musical enrichment (they have their own recording studio), and leadership opportunities for teenagers.

  • The Highlands Neighborhood Center and North Highland Neighborhood Center both offer “Club Highlands” - successful after school drop-in programs run by the parks and rec department for children ages 6 and up. and They offer craft classes, fitness opportunities, movie events, and Wizards of the Coast-sponsored role playing game workshops. The Renton Community Center is also a great resource with various sports, dance, music, and craft classes offered through out the year. The Kennydale neighborhood as well has two active recreation centers through which the Renton Parks and Rec department offers enrichment class opportunities. I applaud our city for using our tax dollars wisely and providing safe places for kids to learn and play.

Unfortunately, none of these facilities are easily accessible to the Talbot and Benson Hill neighborhoods. This is why it's so important that the empty Teasdale Park rec center be reopened. Many of the families who first moved to this area when it was being built in the 70s and 80s enjoyed the rec center when it was thriving years ago. My older neighbors have told me stories about the ballet classes, boy scout meetings, and summer camps their children attended there. As these families downsize and and move to other areas, new families with children are moving in. I've made it my goal to reopen the Teasdale Recreation building so that those of us who live here now can enjoy it just as those before us did.

You can help! Please sign my petition asking the City of Renton to reopen the Teasdale Park Rec Center: https://www.change.org/petitions/the-city-of-renton-reopen-the-teasdale-park-recreation-center.

I'm planning to present my proposal to the upcoming "Fixing Renton's Future" February Meetup this Saturday at 1:00 at Luther's Table sponsored by Rely Local, as well as the Open House held by the Department of Community and Economic Development at City Hall on February 28th from 5:30-7:00.

Help me keep the conversation going. Does your child's school have an after school program? Do you know of any other after school programs in Renton? Do you have any memories of the Teasdale Park Rec Center when it was open to the public? What activities/classes/events do you look for in a community center? Share your thoughts in the comments section below. I'd love to hear them.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Sonja Bowden February 24, 2013 at 02:47 AM
Please sign this petition...it's easy, and this is a great proposal! KB has laid this out so eloquently.
rentonben February 25, 2013 at 04:16 AM
There's a reason the City of Renton can't afford stuff like this anymore - there's a poor economy, but also the increasingly high costs for governmental employees. Go look at the Renton City budget - year after year, the costs for labor is getting larger and lager, along with a commensurate increase in pension funding. Expect to see the City focus on core government services going forward.
KB VanHorn February 26, 2013 at 01:44 AM
I think it's very important to pay qualified workers a living wage and I think it's equally important that those who work their entire lives aren't left out in the cold come retirement age, so I won't be railing against these costs. However, I do think the city could benefit from embracing a new business model when it comes to operating the empty community buildings. I don't expect every neighborhood to be as lucky as the Highlands which has two free after school programs complete with indoor basketball courts, craft classes, and a game room open into the evening hours. My plan for the Teasdale facility is for the Parks and Rec Department to provide consistent, organized daily care at an affordable price that will financially sustain the costs of operation - administrator pay, supply costs, electricity and water bills, etc. Other revenue can come from renting out the space to for special meetings, enrichment classes, or mom groups. The current business model of occasionally renting it out to groups unconnected with the neighborhood (like the YMCA of Newcastle) does nothing to establish an identity for the building or a sense of community in the area.
Amy February 26, 2013 at 02:05 AM
Perhaps you might get more traction if you could get a group who needs space run programming to through the building. The Coal Creek or Matt Griffin Y's might be able to run youth programming in a Renton location. The City might be able to give a nominal stipend towards the NPO as well as the space and the NPO would have space in a great community to serve hundreds of additional families. Good luck!

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