The Evergreen Park and Recreation District board voted 4-1 to expand the weight room at the Wulf Recreation Center by sacrificing one of two racquetball courts.
“I wish that remodeling the existing space would be sufficient,” said Peter Eggers, a former avid racquetball player who now almost exclusively plays golf for recreation.
“During the 2005 bond campaign, we really did make a promise to the voters to expand the weight room,” said Allan Casey, board president. “I feel we really do need to honor it.”
The board met in a regular meeting March 24 at the Buchanan Recreation Center. The vote came after an hour of public comments, mostly favoring racquetball. There was little discussion or debate among the board members.
None of the members was in favor of building an addition to the rec center in the back, which would have cost $237,000, versus $65,000 to expand into one racquetball court or $117,000 to create a 2,000-square-foot weight room.
About six people spoke in defense of the racquetball courts, including Mark Logan, who has been leading the campaign against the weight room expansion since last year.
Logan questioned the accuracy of a district usage study and whether it reflected hours the courts were used for high school practice, closed for equipment storage or when the floors were being refinished.
“When the rec center went to a pay-per-use basis instead of a pay-per-hour basis, participation went up dramatically,” he said.
The racquetball courts have been on the chopping block because park district officials concluded that usage was too low and didn’t justify the space.
The weight room expansion would have gone forward last year, but racquetball fans persuaded park and rec officials to give them a year to improve attendance numbers.
But the numbers turned out to be less than impressive, averaging 3 hours of play per day, ranging from 2 to 5 hours per day over 15 months from December 2007 to February 2009, according to the study provided by the district staff. Usage peaked in February 2008 at 159 hours, or 18 percent of the hours available.
Logan questioned whether the count was accurate.
“How can you distinguish between someone coming in to play racquetball or someone taking a shower? Just walking around at random times and taking a look doesn’t make a reliable metric,” Logan said.
The weight room is usually empty, Logan said.
“A full cost-benefit analysis should be performed on all activities,” he said.
He alleged it will cost the district $100,000 a year if the racquetball courts are closed because everyone who wants to lift weights is already doing so at Buchanan Rec Center, which has a 4,000-square-foot space, compared to about 800 square feet at Wulf.
“It doesn’t seem to me there has been much difference in racquetball usage in the last year,” said board member Janet Doyle. “It’s time for us to make a decision.”
Doyle said the Buchanan center is extremely popular in the mornings.
“The room with all the cardio generally has somebody on every machine and other people doing circuits. Classes have 10 to 20 people,” she said.
Doyle said she wasn’t surprised the weight room at Wulf is not crowded. “It was surprising to me how uninviting that place was compared to Buchanan or any number of places I’ve been,” she said.
John Skeel, district executive director, reported that an informal survey of people using the weight room at Buchanan showed 62 people out of 142 questioned would work out at Wulf instead of Buchanan if the weight room were improved.
Paul Saueracker, a racquetball player, said it would be better to expand into the dance studio. “It would be really sad to see the courts go,” he said.
Saueracker claimed the weight room was rendered unpopular when authorities removed the free weights and put in cardio machines. “People that live up here (in North Evergreen) want the Ritz Carlton; down there it was great before you remodeled it.”
“There are more machines (and fewer free weights) at Buchanan because people are looking for a fast, convenient workout,” said Pat Shea, athletics supervisor. “You need more cardio than you realize. We started out with a lot of free weights and had to add to it.”
Board member Kit Darrow said the district promised residents a better a weight room and that she had heard from many users, even though they weren’t at the meeting.
“I don’t feel secure going out the back of the building. We don’t know what’s there. It’s a pretty good rock wall. I’m afraid we would go through $240,000 like that,” she said.
Eggers said adding a weight room addition to the back of the building would be “irresponsible and a waste of taxpayers’ money … It’s money we don’t have and that could be better spent.
“As a former racquetball player until the knee gave up, I think it would be a shame to lose the courts in the community. … But if I had to make a decision, it would be to lose one court. I would hate to lose both.”
Contact Vicky Gits at firstname.lastname@example.org or 303-350-1042.