While the park district begins its push to collect an extra $6 million in property taxes to expand its footprint and offer new programs, some of the activities and classes currently offered continue to be canceled because of a lack of participants.
Of the 28 fitness and enrichment classes available to kids and adults between Sept. 1 and the end of December, more than 28 percent have already been canceled, according to Erin Parchert, superintendent of recreation. Unfortunately, the problem isn’t new.
“It’s very disappointing when you offer these programs and market these programs and you end up canceling programs,” Cathy McDermott, board president, said. “If we acquire the Roos and programs are still canceled, then something is really wrong.”
It’s difficult to pinpoint why some programs get such a poor response. A lack of facilities to host different events makes for rigid scheduling, said board members and park district staff, which means activities may be inconvenient for people to attend. Poor marketing may also be to blame, but the park district is relying on anecdotal feedback. In recent memory, the taxing body hasn’t conducted a comprehensive survey to find out what the community expects of the park district, McDermott said.
So, why should taxpayers vote to fund an expansion?
“That’s a good question,” McDermott said.
Earlier this month, the Park District of Forest Park unveiled details of its plans to acquire a vacant 2.5-acre parcel at the corner of Harrison and Circle that sits immediately east of its existing campus. Whether that plan is put into action depends on how voters respond to a Feb. 2 referendum that would increase local property taxes. To collect the $6 million that’s estimated to be necessary to buy the property and begin rehabbing it, the park is proposing that property owners pay an additional 12 cents for every $100 of their property’s assessed value.
According to the park district, that increase would add another $57 onto a $4,000 property tax bill. Someone who pays $6,000 a year in taxes would see their bill increase by $87.
McDermott acknowledged the referendum asks for a “tremendous amount of money,” and that it may seem counterintuitive to expand the facility when some current offerings are canceled because of poor attendance. The ability to dedicate facilities to certain programs could boost participation, she said.
“That’s true,” Parchert said of programming constraints at the park.
The administrative building at 7501 Harrison represents the entirety of the park district’s indoor facilities available for fitness classes, educational programs, party rentals and other such activities. Parchert described the space as essentially two large rooms with wood floors. The limitations of having only two rooms means some programming is offered at inopportune times, said Parchert, never mind scheduling around rentals.
If the park district were able to rehab a portion of the vacant brick building on the Roos site, the two upper floors would each offer 8,000 square feet of additional space, according to preliminary plans. Parchert would like to see a portion of that reserved exclusively for daycare services. Another area could be dedicated to teens, she said.
Especially for kids between the ages of 18 months and 5 years, “our programs have been well attended,” Parchert said.
Eric Entler was elected to the park board earlier this year and has been a vocal proponent of using smarter, more aggressive marketing as a way to bolster participation. Some internal changes are in the works, said Entler, but the public is yet to see any new advertising strategies. Electronic and digital technology is most certainly where the park needs to capitalize, he said.
“The brochure is great, and we do a good job with it,” Entler said. “Like anything in marketing, it’s all about repetition. I’m confident we can make [the proposed expansion] a thriving place.”
As for canceled programs, Entler said he isn’t familiar with the details of how often – or why – this occurs. It is an element of the parks that needs to be examined, he said.
“Some programs will run real well, and then another time of year it doesn’t run as well,” he said.