Following layoffs, some in Norfolk worry about how the long-term rec center closures will affect the youth

Norfolk

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Several taxpayers are concerned that the money being saved by keeping the majority of Norfolk’s recreation centers closed won’t be worth future negative side effects.

More specifically, there is concern about how to keep young people from turning to crime to fill the time.

“They used to have something to do in these rec centers,” said Juanita Snead, who until the COVID-19 pandemic was very involved at the East Ocean View Recreation Center. “Now all of that is gone.”

In actuality, the East Ocean View center is one of five of the city’s 18 centers that have remained open for most of the year. The others are Norview Community Center, Lambert’s Point Community Center, Berkley Community Center, and Huntersville Community Center.

The remaining have been shuttered since March to fend off coronavirus-related financial fallout.

On Monday, the city contacted 57 employees that had been on furlough — some of whom were staff at the centers — and told they would not have a job come 2021.

While it isn’t clear what positions exactly were eliminated, Ann Bolen, president of East Ocean View Civic League, said it has concerned many in the neighborhood.

“The rec center is a very important part of our community and serving especially the children,” Bolen said.

While Bolen’s center has stayed open, she said the staff and hours have been extremely trimmed down — again, because of COVID-19.

“The staff that was working there knew these children. They knew which one needed the most help and I’ve lost that,” Bolen said.

Bolen was confused as to why the city’s $3.6-million surplus from the previous year couldn’t be used to keep staff so that at least when gathering limits increase, rec center programs can start up quickly.

City Manager Chip Filer recently said he couldn’t “entertain any conversations bringing furloughed employees back with this money” as it isn’t money he’ll know they’ll have the next year.

Plus, the whole plan surrounding the city’s rec centers could soon change.

This week, public presentations were held on the city’s Recreation, Parks & Open Space’s master plan update.

The city hired PROS Consulting, Inc. for $100,000 back in the 2018 budget to study restructuring recreation program offerings, program service delivery, community need assessment, open space, park and forestry operations, according to a city spokesperson. The master plan also examines and explores current trends in recreation programs and organizational structures that are being implemented in national municipal parks & recreation departments. It also includes an evaluation and strategic plan for future recreation facility development and placement.

Still, Bolen feels there needs to be more creative solutions thought up to keep the institutional knowledge already working for the city.

“My community resource officer has noticed an uptick in petty crimes since recs have been closed,” Bolen said. “I can’t underscore enough how important these [rec centers] are.”


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