ST. ALBANS — The Maple Run Unified School District (MRUSD) board has been asked to study the future of the management of the Collins Perley Sports & Fitness Center (CPSFC).
David Kimel, who has managed the facility for the past 20 years, superintendent Kevin Dirth and St. Albans City Manager Dominic Cloud have put together a memo suggesting such a study, with one possibility being an increased role in the management of the facility for the St. Albans City Recreation Department.
After some discussion at its Aug. 15 meeting, the Maple Run board agreed to consider the matter again at a later meeting.
MRUSD owns Collins Perley and currently hires Collins Perley Inc., a non-profit corporation, to oversee the facility. Some of the employees at CPSFC work for the school and some for Collins Perley, Inc., explained Kimel, a Maple Run employee.
The funds for the creation of the facility were donated by two local families with the intent of creating a recreation facility to serve both the school and the community, with the school, then Bellows Free Academy (BFA), having ownership, explained Kimel.
“A number of years ago BFA felt it was difficult for them to manage the facility in the manner that was envisioned,” said Kimel.
A study committee was formed which led to the creation of Collins Perley, Inc. to oversee day to day operations of the facility. That arrangement has been in place for 22 years, with the contract between the school district and the non-profit automatically renewing each year.
“The real question is: should there be a study to determine if the current model is the best model?” asked Kimel. “I don’t think it does any harm to look.”
Butch Hebert, the President of Collins Perley, Inc. said the board has not “really rolled up its sleeves” yet, adding, “I suppose it’s something that should be considered.”
He added, “The board feels very strongly that the current solution is working very well.”
Indeed, the Collins Perley board voted not to study a change in management, Kimel told the MRUSD board. However, the board also acknowledged that the authority to study the issue lays not with the Collins Perley board but MRUSD, since Maple Run hires Collins Perley, Inc. to manage the facility just as it hires contractors for busing and to manage its cafeterias.
Kimel assured the Maple Run board a study would not necessarily result in changes to the facility’s management. It could find the current arrangement is the best option.
The city wants to have an organized discussion about recreation and investments in recreation, according to Cloud.
Currently, there are multiple projects under consideration in the region. The city is looking at the future of the city pool, which will likely need to be replaced. Collins Perley, Inc. would like to add a field with artificial turf and make some other improvements to the facility. The St. Albans Skating Association is interested in adding a second rink in the area. Both the city and town have contributed to a feasibility study for a new rink.
Kimel suggested that if a second rink were built, Collins Perley would be the ideal location for it, adding, “I don’t personally see that the school would want to fund that rink.”
Because oversight of recreation is fractured, it is difficult to have a community discussion about what the priorities should be for investment, Cloud suggested.
“We’re running a regional recreation department that serves the recreational needs for St. Albans and beyond,” said Cloud. That department is largely self-supporting, with expenditures of $538,000 and income of $458,400 this fiscal year, leaving city taxpayers to contribute $79,560, with $21,000 budgeted for capital investment. The city also owns and operates the Hard’ack Recreation Area with the Hard’ack board serving in a fundraising and advisory capacity.
The city recreation board, noted Kimel, includes members from St. Albans Town and Fairfield, although it is appointed by the council.
Having the recreation department oversee Collins Perley could be “a value-add by having somebody who’s in the business of managing recreational resources in that role,” said Cloud. “The best way to reduce costs of public services is with economies of scale.”
Kimel, too, mentioned economies of scale, noting it could be possible to reduce overlap in offerings between the city’s program and classes at Collins Perley, freeing up resources to expand the range of recreational programs available.
The Maple Run board could create a committee to discuss the issue, Kimel said. He also noted there are other partners to include in the discussion, including St. Albans Town, Northwestern Medical Center and RiseVT.
Even if the committee recommended a change in management, there could still be a role for the Collins Perley Inc. board, Kimel suggested.
“Wellness in our community is changing drastically,” Kimel said, pointing in particular to the role of RiseVT.
Some members of the MRUSD board opposed any study of possible management changes. “I was against it when I first read it. I’m against it now. I can see disaster down the road,” said Al Corey.
“I just don’t see a problem with operating it as it is now,” said Sally Lindberg.
Jeff Morrill said he had concerns, “but I’d rather talk about them.” “What are the benefits?” he asked.
“It’s kind of like owning a car and letting other people drive it,” said Jack McCarthy, prompting Maple Run’s business manager Martha Gagner to respond, “We do have other people driving it, the Collins Perley board.”
Jim Farr, who chairs the Maple Run board, suggested the board “chew on it for a couple of weeks” and then revisit the discussion.
During his presentation to the Maple Run board, Kimel mistakenly said the city council had voted to explore the issue. No votes have been held, according to Cloud, but the council has indicated an interest in further discussions.
“I see the discussion as just looking at opportunities where the city can best use local assets to engage our citizens in improving quality of life and improving healthy lifestyles,” said St. Albans City Mayor Tim Smith. “I think the city could increase access for the youths of the region.”