Pools, rinks, rec center hours all eyed as part of nearly $1M reduction

By Jane McClure

Recreation centers throughout Saint Paul would see reduced hours, aquatic facilities will face cuts and fewer ice rinks will be open for skaters under Mayor Melvin Carter’s proposed 2021 budget. The City Council got its first look on September 9 at plans to trim the city’s Parks and Recreation Department budget.

The department is in line for a general fund reduction of nearly 3 percent, from $40.5 million this year to $39.4 million in 2021. Parks is looking at reducing its staff by 23.13 full-time equivalent (FTE) positions next year, to a total of 355.3, said director Mike Hahm.

Because staff is being added to help at-risk youths as part of the Awakenings Intervention Program, the net budget reduction would be about $884,000. Awakenings would focus on youths ages 6-13 who are at greater risk for trouble with the legal system.

The biggest changes would be to aquatics. The city is planning to contract out concessions for all of its aquatic facilities, which would bring a savings of $152,440 and 3.2 FTE positions. The Great River Water Park inside the Oxford Community Center on Lexington Parkway would close during the summer.

The hours at the Highland and Como pools would be reduced with a focus on peak times for open swimming and swimming lessons. Hours would be from noon-7 p.m., which would eliminate lap swimming and water aerobic times. The change would reduce spending by $589,000, but lower revenue by $315,000. Fifteen FTE jobs would be cut. 

Despite the budget challenges, Parks and Recreation will not close any recreation centers in 2021, Hahm said. Nor will it bring in additional partners to run centers. Saint Paul had 42 recreation centers more than a decade ago. Since then 17 centers were closed. Four were torn down and others were turned over to nonprofits.

swimming
The Great River Water Park inside the Oxford Community Center (shown here being enjoyed during pre-COVID days) would close during the summer under plans to reduce the city’s Parks and Recreation budget for 2021. Photo by Brad Stauffer

“I wouldn’t want to close any facilities at this point, but I would think we should always been open to new service partnerships,” Prince said. “I wouldn’t take that off the table.”

Council members Jane Prince and Amy Brendmoen pointed out the successes the city has seen with nonprofit partners and their recreation center operations. “I wouldn’t want to close any facilities at this point, but I would think we should always been open to new service partnerships,” Prince said. “I wouldn’t take that off the table.”

Linwood and Merriam Park are two of six recreation centers that face additional reductions in some programs. All recreation centers would shift to an 8 p.m. closing time year-round, instead of just the summer months. The changes would save more than $200,000.

Another $212,500 would be saved by focusing youth sports programming only on children ages 8 and younger. The intent is to leverage partnerships with other sports groups to improve access for older children. Hahm said the city would still provide field and facility space for the older sports participants, but would not have to foot the costs of running the programs.

Brendmoen said her concern would be that the stronger nonprofit sports programs are in specific geographic areas, meaning opportunities may not be available everywhere in the city for older children.

“On the East Side of town, we just don’t have those partnerships,” Prince said.

Council member Rebecca Noecker, who serves on a city-county-school district children’s collaborative, agreed. She said there is strong demand for activities for children outside of school, yet those activities are lacking. Hahm said the change is not being made lightly and that parks will work with service providers citywide.

Recreation center maintenance would be shifted to a five-day-a-week schedule, saving another $69,500. That would mean reductions in weekend maintenance.

Some ice rinks would receive less maintenance, and the number of rinks would be reduced from 31 to 23, for almost $45,000 in savings. The list of rinks to be eliminated has not been released.

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