The public will have its first chance today to challenge the Hillsborough County's proposed plan to close 33 recreation centers, lay off staffers and possibly end the after-school care program.
The Parks, Recreation and Conservation Department begins its series of public forums this evening to discuss the proposed consolidation of 42 recreation centers into 12, layoffs of 27 percent of its staff and outsourcing of maintenance work due to funding cuts.
Roundtable meetings to discuss the end of the after-school program began in November, but parks director Mark Thornton is seeking input from residents before presenting the entire plan to a budget committee.
"He wants to get true feedback from the community," said Kemly Green, community relations coordinator for the department. "And they might even suggest something that he hadn't thought of. That's why he is holding these — to see what the feelings are in the community and go from there."
The report recommends restructuring recreation centers from the neighborhood to regional level so that the larger locations can offer more services.
"[Thornton] wants to ensure that the bigger services will be close by. Sometimes there are small centers close together, so [residents] can just drive an extra mile and have all of the services," Green said.
The plan places each of the larger centers within a five- to 15-minute drive of most residents.
Current centers are open four to 14 hours a day, with several only being open for after-school care. Closing the neighborhood locations would also help shrink the department's staff from 534 to 391.
Pamela Settle, whose two daughters attend Jackson Springs for after-school care, is worried about the future.
Rather than move to one of the larger centers, Settle thinks she will probably have to find after-school programs closer to home.
"I will probably have to seek child care elsewhere." Settle said. "It means my oldest daughter will have to become a latchkey kid."
The Northdale, All People's and University Center locations would remain unchanged, while six other centers would be expanded: Westchase, Town 'N Country, Thonotosassa, Brandon, Gardenville and Ruskin.
Three new centers would also be built in Keystone, Progress Village and FishHawk Ranch.
The strategic plan is available online at hillsboroughcounty.org/parks/strategic.
Biz Carson can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 661-2441.