Recreation contentious topic in Grantville
by W. Winston Skinner
Recreation is supposed to be good for your health and your outlook.
Researchers proclaim the benefits of sports, of walking, of simply being outdoors. In Grantville, however, recreation sometimes creates – rather than reduces – stress.
There were tensions earlier this year when Mayor Jim Sells attempted to dismantle the longstanding recreation board. That effort failed, and Sells and the board have made amends.
Then the recent hiring of Michelle Huffstickler as the town’s first full-time recreation director has already generated complaints about her possibly getting a city vehicle and raised concerns about how a long-running summer program for children is being changed.
Then there are the parks – splash versus skate. Plans for the skate park, long championed by the recreation board, seem to be on hold at the moment. The splash park, promoted by the Grantville Downtown Development Authority, is near completion.
As the final work was being done at the splash park on Post Street, a tongue of concrete with the names of Sells and DDA member Robert Allen scratched into it has raised the hackles of some Grantville residents.
The slip of concrete at the Post Street park features the words: “Jim Sells, Mayor” and “Robert Allen, PM.” The “PM” designation apparently stands for “project manager.”
Doug Jewell, a former Grantville mayor who still lives in the city, said he is not happy about the writing in the concrete. “It’s either an act of vandalism or destruction of city property,” he said.
Local resident Amanda Jackson said the park is being funded by all citizens. “If one name was put on there, everybody’s name should have been put on there,” she stated.
“I did not put my name in that concrete,” Sells said. He said the small piece of concrete is not permanent and will be removed as the project moves forward.
When Huffstickler was hired, she was told the city would provide her with a car. She said she needs a car to get from place to place in Grantville, to pick up concession items and pool supplies for the splash park, “for me to be able to go into neighboring communities and form some relationships,” and to secure donations for the program.
At the April 28 city council meeting, the council failed to take action on purchasing a car for Huffstickler. Councilman Johnny Cooks suggested Huffstickler use her own vehicle and get mileage for her city-related travel.
“A take-home car for our recreation supervisor is excessive,” Cooks stated.
Jewell agreed. “As a citizen of Grantville who’s going to be part of paying the bill, I object. I think it’s an unnecessary expense,” he said.
Huffstickler is planning some changes for the annual summer camp program. She would like to hold it in the gymnasium at Glanton Elementary School, a new location, rather than one of the city’s community centers.
She also proposes changes to hours – and costs – for the day camp. “I have proposed to change the current structure of the summer camp that we have been doing here – to expand the hours of operations from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. This would allow parents who need to use this camp for child care in the summer while they work to do so,” she said.
“Another option is to do mini-camps,” Huffstickler said – camps that would emphasize certain skills such as basketball or art. Both the regular day camp and the mini-camps could be done.
Downtown Grantville is “the perfect location to have art camps,” she said.
“The fees for the camp would increase. We would have fees that would increase with the personnel who would work there,” Huffstickler said.
Huffstickler is proposing costs be set at $75 per week per camper. Last year, the cost for the entire summer was $75 for Grantville residents and $125 for children from outside the city.
Mary Elder and Ruby Hines, members of the recreation board, expressed concerns that raising the costs will prevent children who can most benefit from the summer camp experience from attending. Civic groups and churches helped fund spots at last year’s camp for children whose families could not pay the fee, but Elder said that help will not go far at $75 per week per child.
Hines wondered aloud if the fee will reduce participation to the point that the camp will not be held at all.
Sells believes the camp has the potential to do well. Huffstickler’s initial planning aimed at having 25 participants each week. “If we can market this, your 25 number should go up dramatically,” the mayor said.
Councilman Johnny Cooks cautioned against planning only recreation programs that pay for themselves. “When you have recreation projects, recreation typically is not a profitable business,” he said.
“We’re not going to look back,” Sells said. “We’re going forward. Providing proper summer camp for children is going to cost money. It’s part of providing a proper quality of life here in Grantville and we’re going to go forward.”