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Don't Dunedin kids deserve better?

It is troubling that the city of Dunedin has allowed the Stirling Recreation Center to fall into such a state of disrepair.

The Stirling Recreation Center isn't in a part of town that gets a lot of notice. It is north of downtown off Highland Avenue, right across the street from the city's wastewater treatment plant, and surrounded by modest homes and manufacturing plants. However, the Stirling Center serves an important purpose in the neighborhood, especially for children, who play on the playground outside or crowd into the game room after school.

But the facility doesn't reflect the importance of the purpose. The roof is bad. Ceilings inside are damaged by water leaks. Ceiling tiles are missing or patched with duct tape. The walls are cracked. Stirling's program director, Betty Haynes, is blunt about the situation: "We just feel the kids in this neighborhood deserve more," she said.

City officials claim they agree with her assessment, yet conditions at the Stirling Recreation Center are so lousy that the city has the building checked every three months to make sure it is still safe to use. Conditions like that should not be allowed to exist in a public facility for any longer than it takes to design a remedy.

While other projects around town got funded, the city kept pushing replacement of the Stirling Center building to the back burner. The city finally budgeted some money for repairs to the building, including a new roof, but that work might be canceled or delayed because some city officials find it illogical to do major repairs to a building that needs to be torn down.

And when might the building be replaced? No one in the city can say.

The first and most important duty of Dunedin's officials is to protect the health, safety and welfare of residents. Are they fulfilling that duty by allowing the public to use a facility that is in such a state of decline that it must be checked every few months to determine if it is still safe?

There is also a larger question to be addressed in Dunedin, and that is whether the city is adequately funding maintenance and replacement of its recreational facilities. At this time last year, the city was discussing the dilapidated conditions in the Dunedin Community Center on Michigan Boulevard, a 1971 building that gets tremendous use. After receiving a dismal report from architects about the condition of the building, city officials began talking about trying to get a state grant to pay for a new community center. Already, in response to complaints about the Stirling Recreation Center, the city is talking about seeking state money or other outside funds to build a new center.

There could be no better indicator that Dunedin is underfunding that portion of its city budget. There is nothing wrong with appealing for financial assistance from the state or private sources, but the city can't rely on it. The City Commission is duty-bound to raise adequate tax dollars to maintain the public's facilities and replace them when necessary.