Two Hilltop rec centers to close in 2009

Messenger photo by Rachel Scofield

Christopher Artis helps Darryelle Anderson, age 6, Teavah Wright, age 8, and Aarieyana Givens, age 7, with their homework at the J. Ashburn Jr. Youth Center on the Hilltop. In addition to offering homework help, the center provides warm meals and a gym. The center hopes to also serve the children who will soon be locked out of some city parks.

Chuck Patterson, chair of the Greater Hilltop Area Commission, is worried that the Hilltop will experience a rise in crime as two of the three city recreation centers close and Columbus downsizes the police department.

“Columbus takes away the pool, takes away the rec center, and takes away the basketball courts and there aren’t as many police on the street,” Patterson said. “More kids with less to do productively. The possible crime in the Greater Hilltop Area worries me.”

In a press conference on Dec. 4, Columbus Recreation and Parks Director Alan McKnight and Mayor Michael Coleman announced that Glenwood and Holton recreation centers would be among the 11 city parks slated to close.

The rec centers will close in January after the Columbus City Council approves the 2009 budget.

“These are not permanent closures at this point in time,” McKnight said. “We are not going out of business. We will still maintain facilities, rent shelter houses, and offer league sports.”

The parks that will remain open were chosen “to serve as many people as possible with no gaps in service,” McKnight said.

“I am curious how choices were made (regarding which centers to close),” Patterson said. “At first glance it seems more inner city.”

The criteria for closing the centers were based on service area, demographics, accessibility, participation, programs, and proximity to bus routes, McKnight said.

“Glenwood sits on Broad Street – there’s your bus route,” Patterson said. “If low attendance and use were driving factors, did they consider that the pool not opening resulted in the low numbers?”

The parks department could not be reached to respond to those questions.

“As mayor, I hear ‘Why my rec center?’ then I say, ‘Then which one? Give us the alternative,’” Coleman said. “We need more revenue in the City of Columbus – that’s the bottom line.”

“We don’t want to close these rec centers, but frankly it is what we must do,” Coleman said. “These closings are the toughest thing I have done in my political career.”

Keith Noel, the executive director of the J. Ashburn Jr. Youth Center, hopes to welcome the children from the closed rec centers to his safe haven on Clarendon Avenue.

The Ashburn receives most of its funding from the United Way. It offers homework help after school, free meals and a large gym to more than 100 children a day.

In January, the center will amend its 2010 United Way funding letter of intent to reflect the increased need.

“We’ve become experts at doing much with little,” Noel said.

Church leaders from the Hilltop have met with Noel to help accommodate the additional kids.

“It’s good to see a movement by the churches to rally around the rec centers closing,” Noel said.

Patterson said the Greater Hilltop Area Commission would also contribute to the center.

“Anything we can do to help the community,” Patterson said. “Whether it is ensuring they have enough basketballs or toilet paper – anything essential for running the place.
Hopefully it will fill the gap.”

“We are going to get through this,” Coleman said, “We need to call upon the community to step up even more. This is the long haul. It could be a year – it could be longer. A lot depends on what is going on in the federal and state (governments). It is what it is.”

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