A decade later, city says Centre of Elgin is adapting to change
By Janelle Walker For The Courier-News November 20, 2012 9:56PM
Program Supervisor Ashley Dumas laughs as Anthony Marshall, 8, grabs the last spoon in a game of "spoons" during a afterschool program Monday at The Centre of Elgin. The $35.4 million Centre of Elgin opened to customers on Nov. 26, 2002, with an official ribbon-cutting ceremony on Dec. 7 of that year. November 19, 2012 | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media
Centre by the numbers
Resident: 81 percent
Non-resident: 19 percent
Adult: 6 percent
Youth: 51 percent
Preschool: 43 percent
Resident: 85 percent
Non-resident: 15 percent
Adult: 86 percent
Youth: 14 percent
Most successful programs
Birthday parties: 4,149
Swim lessons: 2,933
Summer camps: 1,509
Youth basketball league: 1,010
Home school: 498
Open gym: 5,294
Group fitness: 3,027
Climbing wall: 612
Gold One Day: 451
Source: The Centre of Elgin
Updated: December 22, 2012 6:23AM
ELGIN — Since it opened 10 years ago next week, staff at The Centre of Elgin — the city-owned downtown recreation facility — have been practicing some basic exercises of their own.
That includes the core-strengthening technique of balancing. In their case, that is the balancing of spread sheets, programs against rental events, rentals versus its membership’s needs, staff versus cost, and early childhood programs against general programming space, said Randy Reopelle, parks and recreation director for the city.
The $35.4 million Centre of Elgin opened to customers on Nov. 26, 2002, with an official ribbon-cutting ceremony on Dec. 7 of that year.
Its inspiration came nearly a decade before that. According to a story in The Courier-News, a series of community meetings held throughout Elgin in 1992 highlighted the need for recreational programming in the city — which at that time had a population of 94,000 residents. According to those surveyed, more than 70 percent of Elgin residents said they wanted a city-operated facility for heath, fitness and recreational needs.
Part of its goal when built, Reopelle said, also was to bring “a point of connection” to downtown Elgin where residents from all over the city would meet and recreate, helping to revitalize the downtown area.
Not a moneymaker
What it never intended to do, Reopelle said, was pay for itself.
The construction budget was financed with no property tax impact, city officials said. An initial $15 million cost was derived from a combination of riverboat revenue, developer impact fees, proceeds from land sales at Fox Bluff Corporate Center, and existing bond proceeds. The rest of the construction costs were funded by a 15-year bond that the city has been repaying using riverboat proceeds. There are three years remaining on those bond payments, totaling $5.04 million.
Although much was made early in the building’s operation of it being a self-sustaining entity, that rarely happens for community recreation centers, Reopelle said.
“They all lose money. No one builds one of these to make money,” Reopelle said.
Over the years, there have been many changes to operations to ensure that the spending loss can be minimized, he and his leadership staff said.
Salaries have risen negligibly in the 10 years since the building first opened, Reopelle said, and operating costs have held at close to the same levels during that time.
In 2003 — its first full year of operations — the Centre’s operating costs were $3 million, said Wayne Carlstedt, operations manager.
That includes wages and benefits for employees, commodities and supplies, contractual and capital expenditures.
In 2012, through July 30, total expenses were $1.994 million, he said, and The Centre expects to end the year with just over $3 million in expenditures.
“The last year full year was $3.6 million but will be less than that” in 2012, Carlstedt said.
There are revenues at the Centre as well, from three main areas: membership, programs, and rentals. Liquor sales during events in the ballroom also help prop up the bottom line.
In 2003, total Centre revenues were just under $2.6 million, Carlstedt said. That number is expected to top out at $2.9 million for 2012, he added.
There are things that staff could do to increase those revenues, said Amy Knorek, customer service manager. The Centre could book more basketball tournaments and swim meets — but those come at a cost.
“We could take a gym rental every weekend and close the gym and make money,” Knorek said. “But you have draw the line somewhere. If we only want this money we could rent it … but there is push-back from members” who do not like being told they cannot use the gym for basketball or the pool for laps during the events.
“They want to come out and shoot baskets,” Knorek said.
Centre staff also could turn most of the building into a preschool center and turn a profit, Reopelle said — but again, at the cost of shutting down or shutting out other programs.
They’ve already “flipped” some under-used programming space to add more preschool classrooms, he said.
“It (preschool) is a very profitable program. There is other programming space that is not as economically rewarding — but how much of that do you want to do?” Reopelle asked.
Staffing levels — and where staff was placed throughout the building — also were changed over the years, placing employees closer to the areas they worked in, Knorek said.
The exact number of full-time equivalent positions at The Centre was not available from the city. However, figures show staffing costs (wages and benefits) were $2.07 million in 2003 and $2.47 million in 2011, Carlstedt said.
“We have lost some full-time people with reduction in force” efforts by the city, Knorek said. “When Wayne and I came in, we cut back on certain staffing — there are times when you didn’t need people working behind a desk.”
It also doesn’t do any good to have staff who are not trained in their position or in the building’s operations — one of the complaints he heard when he arrived eight years ago, Reopelle said.
“You have to train and go through a process of weeding out the bad ones, and that takes awhile,” Reopelle said.
Now, Knorek said, staff takes pride in its level of customer service with both members and guests. She’s been told by members that it’s that customer service that brought them back to The Centre when they tried one of the fitness/workout chains.
The past 10 years have not been without its challenges, Carlstedt said.
“What has been really positive in the last 10 years is that we have been able to open a facility ... where we didn’t have any programming space before. (The city was) using the Lords Park pavilion and schools; we didn’t have enough programs to fill up our brochure. Now, we are using a majority of the facility. The more they take our classes, the more they like it. It is like any business in its early years.”