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Board's goal: Make rec centers self-sufficient
Construction covered, but not operating costs
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Forsyth County News


Two recreation centers will be built in south Forsyth, but it's the operating costs that worry officials.

Forsyth County commissioners voted 4-1 on Thursday, with Patrick Bell opposed, to have Winter Construction build the Buice and Fowler recreation centers for about $9.9 million.

The commission also voted 4-1, with Chairman Brian Tam opposed, that the centers raise fees as needed to fully fund their operations, and that the county solicit proposals from those interested in operating the facilities.

"I think we have to signify to the whole citizenry that we're going into this prudently," Bell said.

One recreation center will be built at Fowler Park, near Hwy. 9 and Castleberry Road, which is scheduled to open in mid-February.

The Buice center will be built on property at Nichols and Old Atlanta roads that the county bought through a voter-approved bond for parks, recreation and green space.

Each center will be about 42,000 square feet and feature two gymnasiums, a walking track, exercise rooms and office space.

Both centers are expected to open in early 2012, said Donna Kukarola, the county's procurement director.

Building the centers at the same time came with a $125,000 discount, she said.

The funding for construction will come from the parks bond and impact fees, which are charged to developers.

Money for operations, however, is tight for the parks and recreation department, which has taken some cost-cutting measures lately.

Most notably, the county will reduce hours at its Central Park Recreation Center in April.

The new recreation centers are projected to cost about $430,000 per year to operate.

Based on current revenue, the parks department estimates each center would bring in about $318,000, said Jerry Kinsey, director.

"About 70 percent of the expense we can collect revenue-wise," he said, which compares to the Central Park center.

Kinsey said the department will compile an estimate of what fee increases would be needed to make the new centers cost neutral.

"But if it comes out we need to charge a family $400, then we don't need to be in the business," Kinsey said. "If we can charge them $100 to be a member there ... for a family, I think we could possibly [do that]."

He said neighboring Gwinnett County charges $2 per person to use its gyms.

"It won't be anything new to charge people," Kinsey said.

The commission wanted to increase user fees instead of budgeting more from the county's general fund.

Not all of the property owners, who pay those taxes, use the facilities, Commissioner Pete Amos noted.

"We've already asked parks and rec to cut back expenses. How are we going to justify spending another quarter million?" Amos said.

Funding to operate the recreation centers will come up in the 2012 budget.

Kinsey suggested staff could also possibly double up or cut back to keep costs down.

"Our staff wants this, the people need it, and it's good for indoor activities, so me and my staff are willing to stretch ourselves a little more," he said.