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Keeping the fire lit 

Neighborhood presses city to rebuild Leisure Center.

ADULT LEISURE CENTER: Burned nearly a year ago.
  • ADULT LEISURE CENTER: Burned nearly a year ago.

Progress toward rebuilding the Adult Leisure Center on 12th Street, destroyed in a fire Oct. 13, 2009, has been, in a word, leisurely.

Or so it seems to the residents of University Park, the neighborhood in which the center was located, and others that regularly met at what the city says was its most-used community center, booked almost solid with TOPs meetings and AARP meetings and retired teacher meetings, bridge clubs, fashion shows, exercise classes and more.

Even the city's Parks and Recreation Commission chair says of the delay that "it's been way too long."

But it wasn't always clear that the city was committed to rebuilding the center at all; in July, City Manager Bruce Moore proposed to use $1.4 million it received from the center's insurer, Rebsamen Insurance, to partly make up for a $3 million hole in the city's budget.

An outcry from the University Park Neighborhood Association and users of the center halted that move and got a promise from the city — in the form of a resolution — stating its commitment to rebuild.

Once the center is built — and Parks and Recreation Director Truman Tolefree says that should be late next year — the city, which has been cutting costs and laying off employees (including some who worked at the Leisure Center, Tolefree said), will have to find money to operate it.

But Parks Commission Chair Bill Cobb said he had not heard anyone express reluctance to rebuild the center because of operating costs. "We want to get it open," he said. "It's a tremendous asset and a disservice to constituents and citizens for it to go on this long."

The problem, assistant city manager Bryan Day said, lies with the insurance adjuster's position that the center isn't a total loss, and that the remaining burned hulk — which includes beams and two walls — could be used. The city disagrees. The center was insured for $2.7 million and its contents for $164,000 more; the city could recover another $1.37 million if the building is declared a total loss. Day said an independent structural engineer is assessing the building's damage; his report is due any day.

The city will not be able to raze the structure, now surrounded by a high chain link fence, until the dispute is settled.

"I know they mean well, but sometimes things get lost between the cracks," Arma Hart, president of the University Park Neighborhood Association, said. Hart was one of the people who expressed their opposition to the City Board of Directors on July 6 to the plan to apply the insurance proceeds to other city needs. She said the University Park group hadn't been consulted about the idea.

"I was out of town and one of the neighbors called me and told me they were about to use the money for other purposes. So they had not planned to do it [rebuild the center] even though they said they were," Hart said. "Nobody involved us; we were upset about it."

Pam Powell, who edits the neighborhood association newsletter, said the busy center generated revenues for the city, but Tolefree said they fell well short of paying for personnel.

"They keep talking about the 12th Street Corridor," the plan to rejuvenate 12th street, Powell, who lives across the street from the Leisure Center and was a user, said. "The center's on 12th street too."

Powell added that she didn't envy the financial position the city is in, and she and Hart said the city needed to look at other revenue sources.

The city has told the neighborhood association that it will be consulted on the design of the new center. Two changes are already on the table: To make the center handicapped accessible and install sprinklers.

Another change Hart wants to make: Two weeks unscheduled where the center can be used first-come, first-served. "A window of opportunity," she called it. She'd like to have her birthday party there. The association will hold its quarterly meeting Sept. 21, and hopes to have a representative from the city attend to give a progress report.

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