Rec center racquetball debate bounces back

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By Stephen Knapp

The topic of Evergreen racquetball is back in play, and at the Evergreen Park and Recreation board of directors meeting on April 15, competition was spirited.

Readers may recall that, almost exactly one year ago, the mountain area’s small but passionate racquetball posse came out swinging when the district proposed expanding then-Evergreen Recreation Center’s weight room into one of the facility’s two racquetball courts. Following hours of often animated debate, EPRD’s board agreed to temporarily suspend that plan, allowing the district time to compile more concrete usage data and giving the Evergreen Racquetball Club a chance to compile more usage. One April later, the fate of those racquetball courts again hangs in the balance, and last week’s meeting at the Wulf Recreation Center felt like dj vu all over again.

To be clear, the certainty of the long-deferred weight room expansion is not in dispute. For one thing, the district has already purchased weight room equipment that will remain mothballed until additional space can be made available. For another, EPRD’s staff believes that improving Wulf’s weight facilities will help ease congestion in the currently overburdened Buchanan Recreation Center weight room. Finally, the weight room must expand because EPRD promised district voters that it would.

“That’s a commitment we made in the 2005 bond election,” said board treasurer Allan Casey. “It’s not an option not to do it.”

This time around, the dust-up began when EPRD’s executive director, John Skeel, decided that nothing would be gained by further delay. Rather than offering an official recommendation as to how the expansion would best be accomplished, Skeel simply proffered the two available options and urged the board to pick one.

“This is technically a working session, so there won’t be any vote and we won’t be making any decision,” said board president Jeff Knetsch, before opening the floor to public comment. “Tonight’s meeting is just to say, ‘Here’s where we are’ and address what we’re going to do.”

On one hand, the district can push the weight room out through the center’s south wall at a cost of about $200,000. On the other, it can expand into one of the two adjacent 800-square-foot racquetball courts for about a quarter of that cost. For the assembled racqueteers, a single court would be little better than none at all.

“We looked into it, and there’s no such thing as a single racquetball court in the Denver metro area,” said local Realtor and die-hard racquetballer Tupper Briggs. “Without two courts, it would be impossible to hold tournaments, and almost impossible to get a court during crunch times. We have more than 70 committed racquetball players on our roster, and we have people adding their names every week.”

On the subject of tournaments, Marc Logan pointed to the April Fool’s Day Racquetball Tournament, one of three organized by WRC building supervisor Kendra Hinkson, as proof-positive that the sport remains alive and well in the mountain area.

“We had 25 entries, and we actually had to turn players away,” Logan said. “There were 100 spectators over two and a half days, and 40 hours of play. And we just launched a website that we think can attract new, young players. We pledged to increase usage, and I feel we’re beginning to do just that.”

As they were a year ago, usage figures remain central to the debate. Winter is peak season for racquetball and, during the first three months of 2008, WRC’s courts averaged about 17 percent occupancy, as opposed to the weight room’s 58 percent. Granted, those numbers come on the heels of a major remodel and its attendant disruptions, but, even in a best-case scenario, Skeel pointed out, racquetball would lag significantly behind weight training.

“Racquetball will never get more than 25 percent use, but the weight room could go considerably higher,” Skeel said. “The question is, which is the best use of this facility’s limited space?”

“The usage figures for these courts compare favorably to other facilities this size,” offered Briggs.

While the Evergreen Racquetball Club freely admitted it can’t beat weightlifting’s attendance, many of those present suggested that offering a diversity of services is just as important as increasing district revenues.

“In the Evergreen area, there are three swimming pools, three cardio rooms, and lots of other services, but there are no other racquetball courts,” Briggs said. “We hope you’ll accommodate the weight room without destroying racquetball.”

In fact, EPRD’s board and staff readily admitted that revenue-generating capacity should not, by itself, determine what services the district provides.

“I think it’s reasonable to think that racquetball can increase,” Skeel said. “But if racquetball is going to stay in this community, we just have to accept the fact that it’s never going to be as popular as some other programs.”

“Revenue isn’t the only rationale,” said Knetsch, “but we do have a responsibility to the taxpayers to pay the bills and see that their money is used wisely. I’m strongly in favor of putting (the expansion) off for a while. Until racquetball makes it through a full winter, we might not have a fair picture of what usage is possible.”

Although the district seemed sympathetic to the racquetball contingent’s position, a board vote on how and when to proceed with the weight room expansion will have to wait until a special meeting is scheduled for that purpose.

“We’ll post the date of a voting meeting on our website ASAP,” Knetsch said.

To learn more, visit www.evergreenrecreation.com.