Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

What should happen to Seattle's community centers?

Dancers face off in a competition at Southwest Community Center. Seattle officials say the centers aren't sustainable and want public input on changes.
Seattle Parks and Recreation
Dancers face off in a competition at Southwest Community Center. Seattle officials say the centers aren't sustainable and want public input on changes.

If you care about youth sports, neighborhood gatherings or activities for seniors, you might rely on community centers. In Seattle, some big changes to the facilities could be on the way. Officials say they’re too expensive as the city struggles with shrinking revenue. So they're asking anyone who's interested in community centers to help decide their fate.

Will community centers close?

Not likely. Residents came out in droves to show their support for community centers when the mayor proposed slashing drop-in hours and renting a gym to a private organization, as Carly Flandro reported in the Seattle Times a few months ago.

Lisa West, a parent in West Seattle, tells KPLU that it's hard to quantify the value of community centers to people who live outside of the neighborhood.

"We live with it day to day – the gym, the foosball, there’s skate night Friday nights, all the community meetings, there’s so much that happens there," she says. "It's a wonderful place to have our community hub.”

The city did shave 1/4 of the hours at a handful of facilities, but city council members say the model is still too pricey. Most of the cost is staffing. 

What options are being considered?

The city council asked the parks department to review the following approaches:

  • alternative staffing schedules. Several centers staff four employees and one custodian full time. 
  • different drop-in hours at different centers based on demand and time of year.
  • different pricing models that charge higher entry and enrollment fees to some users.
  • partnering with recreational, community or volunteer groups to operate and manage the community centers, such as Boys' & Girls' Clubs and the YMCA. 
  • expanding existing partnerships with the Associated Recreation Council, which operates most classes at the centers.
  • modeling local centers after those in other cities, such as San Francisco and Vancouver, B.C.

How will these changes affect community center users?

Councilwoman Sally Bagshaw says the changes could mean fees go up and some programs are cut but her goal is to figure out new ways to deliver services.

The council created an advisory team of community members and government employees to help. The public can also weigh in at a couple of upcoming meetings. The parks department will compile suggestions and give its recommendations the city council by June 1.

Public comment opportunities:

Feb. 2, 6:30 - 8:30 p.m.
Miller Community Center, 330 19th Avenue E (Capitol Hill)

May 4,
Time and location TBD

Charla joined us in January, 2010 and is excited to be back in Seattle after several years in Washington, DC, where she was a director and producer for NPR. Charla has reported from three continents and several outlets including Marketplace, San Francisco Chronicle and NPR. She has a master of journalism from University of California, Berkeley and a bachelor's degree in architecture from University of Washington.