St. Charles schools turn to park district for help with Norris Rec Center

  • The John Baker Norris Recreation Center may soon be managed by the St. Charles Park District

    The John Baker Norris Recreation Center may soon be managed by the St. Charles Park District Daily Herald File Photo, August 2012

 
 
Updated 11/16/2015 10:41 PM

The "Who We Are" section of the Norris Recreation Center's website was blank Monday night. St. Charles school officials are hopeful a pending agreement to bring in new management will solve the identity crisis.

A school board committee gave tentative approval Monday night to a new agreement that would see St. Charles Park District staff run the recreation center on a one-year contract. The transition may mean the death of the not-for-profit organization that's run the facility for its entire 40-year history.

 

The recreation center is its own not-for-profit organization. But because the building sits on the campus of St. Charles East High School, it's become an integral part of the district's swim team offerings.

The district assumed ownership of the rec center when the pool needed $1.3 million in repairs the not-for-profit couldn't afford. Now the not-for-profit pays the school district an annual rent to use the space as a well as paying into a contingency fund for building needs.

A year ago, the not-for-profit pushed for a $2 million remodeling project. The idea was to make the rec center more competitive with local private gyms. The organization would have reimbursed the district for $1.23 million of the cost via a 15-year repayment plan. That plan stalled with ongoing concerns about the future use and viability of the recreation center. The district also now has more pressing financial concerns related to the pending loss of state funds and additional costs as the Illinois General Assembly is mired in a budget battle. District officials are contemplating school closures to address the potential money woes.

It remains to be seen if the rec center's woes are more about how it was run or the condition of the facility. There remains between $2.2 million and $5 million worth of infrastructure improvements at the rec center that will be deferred for at least another year. The infrastructure needs came into the spotlight after a mold infiltration in 2012.

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If the agreement with the park district works out, school board members expressed interest in signing a multiyear deal. At that point, the school board may dissolve the not-for-profit's interest in the facility. The current idea is to keep the not-for-profit in place during the one-year trial with the park district. No one from the not-for-profit was present at the school board meeting Monday night.

School Superintendent Don Schlomann said the expenses and revenues of the rec center are expected to "be a wash" in the trial year. The contract includes a 50/50 revenue sharing plan to encourage the park district to boost profits.

"We have an interest in the facility, but we believe this is the park district's expertise," Schlomann said. "We want to make sure this works out well for both parties. The facility has been operated under a completely different management structure for a number of years. So no one is completely sure how this is going to go."

School officials said nothing will change in the daily use for current rec center members. Membership is still required for any new users.

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