Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Wages of Sprawl

Fayetteville is fortunate to have a wonderful staff and a great new facility for the Donald W. Reynolds Boys and Girls Club. It is quite unfortunate that the Board of Directors decided to build it way out west on Rupple Road. That is now more evident than ever, as are the shifting reasons and unconvincing pleas for more city tax dollars to sustain the folly.

Former Mayor Fred Hanna bears much of the blame for giving the city land for the remote site and promising
$395,000 from the trails and parks program for building construction, $300,000 for a parking lot, and $124,000 for water and sewer line extensions. At the same time the board requested another $750,000 a year in city tax dollars for three years. To Mayor Dan Coody's credit, he tried to convince the former Youth Center board to build the new facility in Walker Park, which made far too much sense. Jeff Koenig and the other board members ignored the suggestion and insisted that it go forward out west of town, and Coody quickly backed down.

One of the reasons given for building the Boys and Girls Club out west, said Board member Susan Anders, who was paid $157,000 as a consultant, was so
it could provide a better mix of children from a wider range of economic backgrounds. Athletic activities at the existing Youth Center site at Harmon and California draw participation from a wide range of children of all circumstances, but the children from wealthy and middle-income families seldom take part in the other youth center programs. The Rupple Road location would draw more "children from wealthy families."

At the same time, former Youth Center Director John Benberg said,
"We've thought about the importance of serving the kids that come here now. We've thought about the logistics of transporting kids and getting them there. We know we'll be transporting dramatically more kids than in the past." So, from the beginning, the plan was to make the facility more convenient for children whose parents were more wealthy and could provide private transportation, but kids from low income families (with both parents working or without a second car) would be bussed across town at city taxpayer expense if they wanted to use the facility.

Now when city revenues are down and the continuing subsidies are being examined, Eric Schuldt, current executive director, claims that getting only $147,000 ($98,500 less than the club requested this year) will harm poor children. The club transports many children from low-income families in town out to the club in western Wedington sprawlville. "One of the things I really don't want to see impacted is transportation," he said. "The pockets of poverty in our community are getting further spread out. ... We need to reach out more and bring people into the club." No, Eric, the pockets of low and middle income families are where they've always been. It is your facility that is farther out.

The city can address the immediate threat by contracting only for transportation costs and fee scholarships for low and moderate income children. It would have made far more sense to have built the Boys and Girls Club in the Walker Park area, where it could have served more children after school and on weekends without the expense of a massive busing program that wastes tax dollars and energy. Apparently, Board member Jeff Koenig still doesn't get it. Building a new high school out in Wheeler is not the solution; it will just make matters worse.

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