Parks & Neighborhoods Committee Meeting April 19 recap
Our Parks and Neighborhoods committee meeting on April 19 was a briefing day. We had no legislation to consider, so we took the opportunity to get updates on some of the projects I’ve been interested in, such as how the community center reorganization has been going, what’s happening with the ELC at Carkeek Park, and a few other things.
Chairs Report: Parks Preservation Working Group
I talked about the newly formed Parks Preservation Working Group, (which I prefer to call the Parks Transformational Group, because it’s a more ambitious name, and I think ambition and vision are called for, not just for getting through the 2013 budget, but for looking honestly and clearly at parks funding for years to come.)
The group is scheduled to meet four times, on April 20 and 27 and May 4 and 11 at 7:30 a.m. in the Park Board Room at the Parks Administration Building at 100 Dexter Ave. N., and they are tasked with thinking creative ways for Parks to meet their service levels while also meeting expected budget reductions.
At the conclusion of the meetings, Parks staff will prepare a summary document that identifies options, highlights potential revenue increases and/or cost savings, and describes a process for public review and possible implementation for each option.
Linnea Mattson and Carol Fisher of the Lifelong Recreation Advisory Council reminded us that parks are for kids of all ages and all abilities. They pointed out that this spring, Lifelong Recreation offered 103 physical fitness classes, 22 dance classes, 41 mental and creativity stimulus activities and classes, more than 25 hiking groups that walk once a week or twice a month. Lifelong Recreation offers food and fitness programs for Korean, Vietnamese, Somali and Ethiopian populations, which include social, educational and fitness components, and has hosted more than 60 field trips this year.
David Ward, also of Lifelong Recreation pointed out that we’re all aging, the 65+ population will more than double by 2025, so senior programs are critical. Lifelong Recreation served more than 60,000 people last year.
Carkeek Environmental Learning Center
Carkeek Park is plainly a beloved gem, and its supporters showed up in force, which was great to see and I thank you all for coming down to City Hall and talking about your desires for this facility. I hope you’ll forgive how much I’ve boiled down your talking points here! Later in the recap you’ll read more about Parks’s hopes for a partnership with Audobon.
Nancy Malgrem, longtime Carkeek Park champion, showed up to make the case for employing a naturalist at the currently shuttered Environmental Learning Center and calling for better gathering of data about who uses which parks programs. Terry Walsh, a former naturalist at Discovery Park, spoke out on behalf of the Carkeek Park play area interpretive program, and William Biehl with the fish feeding program spoke up for how raising fish in classrooms and releasing them at Carkeek helps kids understand the importance of conservation. Bill Halen talked about getting 70,000 salmon fry and food for them every year from the Suquomish tribe. Bill reported that 248 salmon returned to the creek last year, 78 the year before, and 32 the year before. “It’s getting better out there!” He said. Better still, this year more than 500 people came to see the fish in the fishpond, a huge increase and simply due to the installation of a sign on a trail. Tim Cox, treasurer of Carkeek Park Advisory Council reminded us of some of the programs run by volunteers at the Park and added a plea for Park staff to help support volunteers.
Senator Maralyn Chase from the 32nd Legislative District (into which Carkeek falls) noted that our state-level representatives recognize the city’s financial difficulties but still want to urge that we do our best by Carkeek. She spoke of Carkeek as a national treasure and the LEED Gold certified Environmental Learning Building as examples regularly referred to by the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators.
State Representative Ruth Kagi, also from the 32nd, expressed appreciation for the city’s constraints and how challenging current budgets are to work with and called for continuing support for Carkeek Park.
30-year Carkeek volunteer Polly or Pauline, whose last name I couldn’t catch (I’m sorry!) talked about how people visit from around the country and even the world to watch the salmon spawn right in the middle of the city. She described herself as a salmon-sitter – making sure kids use quiet voices and don’t disturb the fish.
Jerry Rosso and Sabrina Whaley with Specialized Programs Advisory Council reminded us that that people in these programs really have no other place to go, as other more generally-targeted programs and services are not adequately tailored to support their needs. Wheelchair basketball, Special Olympics sports training, and other classes and programs such as cooking, dance, and camping, are priceless programs the city cannot afford to sacrifice to the budget axe.
After public comment closed, Acting Superindentent Christopher Williams and Recreation Director Sue Goodwin from Parks came to the table to dig a little deeper into current and future plans and programs.
For this recap I’m focusing on subjects Christopher talked about that represent the kind of creative funding and partnerships I’m hoping our Parks Preservation Working Group can draw inspiration from, but all the subjects he discussed, including National Walking Day, the Beaver Pond Natural Area, the University Heights parking-lot-to-green-space effort, and more, are here in his Superintendent’s Report.
Christopher recapped an event that he and I both attended earlier in the week: the Southwest Pool, Teen Life Center and Neighborhood Service Center dedication on Tuesday, April 17. This effort was an example of an effort to break out of the siloing I mentioned earlier. This project was the product of joint efforts between Parks, Department of Neighborhoods, and the Department of Finance and Administratives Service. Christopher reported that more than 50 people came through the door before the building was even officially open. The cloaction of services means more people are visiting our facilities, more people are walking through the door.
We heard an update on the Belltown Community Center, a Levy Commitment that’s been on the books since 1999. The center will open in August of this year without a dime of General Fund support – a highly successful protoype for Parks’s efforts to find alternate funding sources for services.
We also heard about the Bell Street Park. The project will open for bids in September, and we’re expecting a grand opening by July 2013. This is a first-of-a-kind project, where Parks is trying to create open, parklike space by using a street, in an area where purchasing space would be prohibited by cost. This is another cross-department project, involving SDOT, SPU, City Light, DPD and Parks, and it may well be that in the future, as the city densifies, this is how we will get green and open space.
Another great example of Parks approaching funding restrictions creatively is the Rainier Beach Community Center and Pool partnership project. Here, Parks has the opportunity to implement some of the priorities identified by the Neighborhood Plan that Department of Neighborhoods and DPD have been working on for the past year, such as really making this community center multicultural. In March, Parks hosted an open house to launch the Request for Interest (RFI) process for partnership opportunities at the RBCC. More than 60 community members showed up, and Parks heard great ideas from North African groups, youth groups, and nonprofits interested in partnering. These are smaller groups who would have some challenges trying to step up and create these programs on their own, but in partnership with Parks might be able to accomplish a lot.
Carkeek Park Environmental Learning Center
At the request of constituents invested in the park, Christopher gave us a review and update on how things are looking for Carkeek Park. In the last budget cycle Parks abrogated the staffing at Carkeek Park and closed the Environmental Learning Center (ELC).
Parks continues to work with SPU to provide the Salmon in the Schools program as classroom and instructor-led park programs, and has been working hard to return programs to Carkeek Park, holding a one-day summit of Environmental Educators from all over the region and asking for their partnership and creative thinking to help reopen the ELC.
Out of that effort came an agreement with Seattle Audobon, which should be final within the next few weeks. Seattle Audubon is also a partner with the Green Seattle Partnership. Working in concert with the Forest Steward program, this partnership is providing citizen science opportunities to monitor our forest restoration sites to gather data about neighborhood birds for the nationwide Neighborhood Bird Project.
Conservatory at Volunteer Park
Parks hired Rick Daley of EMD Consulting, an expert in conservatories, to help respond to the Mayor’s challenge to reduce the Volunteer Park Conservatory’s reliance on General Fund support. Daley started working with DPR, the Conservatory, and the community at the beginning of the year, and has come up with some ideas, such as adding an event tent that could be used for weddings and special events, or giving the Conservatory an Executive Director to be responsible for the Conservatory’s business model.
Big Conservatories across the country recover about 25-30 percent of their revenue through rentals, fees, and special events, and that revenue recovery is based on having a space to rent. Our Conservatory faces restraints due to its small size so creative alternatives may be options.
Parks has received the draft consultant report, and staff are working with the consultant to finalize it. Councilmember Rasmussen and I met with him this morning – I’ll give you an update on what I learned in the next few weeks. We’ll also have a briefing in Committee sometime in the near future.
Sue Goodwin updated us on how the new tiered, geographic team approach to running Seattle’s community centers, which Parks started in response to budget cuts in 2011, is going. Parks has been installing people counters at the community centers to make sure our decisions about when the centers need to be open are made based on actual hard data
We learned that all but five of our new People Counters are installed, which puts Parks ahead of schedule. Installation will be complete within two weeks, and staff are training on the software. The whole system will be operating by the end of April. Sue explained that Parks intends to combine people counter data with class registration data to ensure we understand not only when people are using community centers, but why.
Other partnerships arising from the geo team process include a Korean food and fitness program opening in May at Bitter Lake, allowing the International Drop In Center to use Van Asselt to provide services when we are not open, and developing a new after-school, evening, and late night program for teens during the summer months in the Rainier Beach area. The Women of the World program at High Point is also a pilot Parks hopes to expand to other community centers after demonstrating success.
Sue reminded us that Parks’s goal was to increase our revenue and to decrease our reliance on General Funds. In fact, in spite of a complete reorganization and redefinition of staffs’ jobs, Parks has already seen a 3% increase in revenue in the first quarter.
Sue also noted that there have been some unintended consequences of creating “2b” sites, that is, centers that are open 25 hours a week. Unfortunately, these centers are only staffed for 20 hours a week, so there’s a 5-hour gap that Parks is trying to close. The gap is actually even larger, because the centers are bustling with programs during the hours when they aren’t professionally staffed. Parks is working with the Associated Recreation Council (ARC) to find funding to give professional staff what they need to succeed, and gathering data from community center staff on the ground to bring to the next round of budget discussions.
Senior and Teen Programs
Sue told us about Senior Programs as well, noting that Seattle’s proportion of people over the age of 62 is growing fast. Lifelong Recreation has put on hundreds of events, serving 60,000 people, including programs like Sound Steps, led by the indefatigable Mary Grace Becker; food and fitness programs, Title V workers. Another name that kept coming up was that of David Jensen, a Parks employee whose work with Lifelong Recreation has garnered him citywide respect and gratitude. David is leaving DoN, and will be much missed.
Teen programs include 10 Late Night sites, which served 12,000 people in the first quarter of this year, and our three Teen Centers, which have served 9000 people so far. Also, Step grants and Summer of Service applications are available on our Teen Portal right now. They include food service, lifeguarding, and more—some are paid, some aren’t, but it’s a great array of youth opportunities for the summer.
Though we didn’t have actual legislation before us, we did learn a lot about our Parks systems and the work that DPR does. I’m so grateful to all our hardworking Parks staff, who’ve rolled with a lot of cuts and a lot of change in the past couple years, and taken on new levy acquisitions along the way.
Our next meeting will be May 3, at 9:30 in Council Chambers. We’ll hear an update on the P-Patch/Community Gardening Program from Department of Neighborhoods, among other things.