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Minus a few questions, new rec board is promising: Editorial

Posted 3/7/18

Area residents who want to take advantage of community recreational programs will have a new acronym to remember — MARA.

Barring an unforeseen rejection of the plan Tuesday night by the …

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Minus a few questions, new rec board is promising: Editorial

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Area residents who want to take advantage of community recreational programs will have a new acronym to remember — MARA.

Barring an unforeseen rejection of the plan Tuesday night by the Middletown Borough Council (after the deadline for this edition), the Middletown Area Recreation Alliance will replace the longstanding Olmsted Regional Recreation Board.

On the whole, we see this as a positive. Advocates of the change say it will bring more options to people who want to take advantage of programs, and eliminate the need for the duplication of services.

Running the alliance will be representatives of the Middletown Area School District, Lower Swatara Township, and the boroughs of Middletown and Royalton.

MASD school board President Linda Mehaffie said programming such as ballroom dancing, yoga, zumba, pickleball, soccer, volleyball, sewing and tennis — activities not currently offered — could be implemented with MARA, along with bus trips to places such as New York City — something Mehaffie said the Olmsted board used to offer, but has not in recent years.

There might even be a focus on walking trails, open spaces, river walks, dog parks, sand volleyball, Wi-Fi at parks, athletic fields and synthetic turf fields, and afterschool care or computer courses at the school district or youth sports summer camps.

The alliance is modeled on the regional recreational structure in the Mechanicsburg Area School District.

Our concerns are few, but not inconsequential.

1. What will the costs of the programming be for residents? It’s hard to say at this point. Will the price point be too high for residents if officials want the program ultimately to be self-sustaining?

2. The alliance likely will have a policy that programs will need to be self-sustaining or they will be eliminated. How severe will that be? Will it cause ill-will if a program is popular but not financially solvent and it gets removed? Making money is a good business model, but does it fit a community rec program?

3. At the end of five years, the school board and the three municipalities can decide whether to extend the agreement if it is working. So what if it’s not? Where does that leave programming?

4. Maybe the biggest concern involves the swimming pool in Middletown. The study on which MARA is based recommends the borough take sole responsibility for the pool, a source of enjoyment for many during the warm summer months. Borough Manager Ken Klinepeter told council during a meeting in 2017 that the school district, Lower Swatara and Royalton did not want to be involved in running the swimming pool under the new alliance due to concerns over liability. The pool ran a deficit of from $4,000 to $5,000 in 2017, Klinepeter told council. We would hate to see it cease to operate.

5. We were happy to hear that Lower Swatara Commissioner Todd Truntz raised the issue of concerns he had received — mostly from the Lower Swatara Township Athletic Association — that MARA would step on its toes, but he was “assured that that’s not the case … LSTAA would have preference to use township fields and the township would continue to maintain the fields as they have,” Truntz said. It is key to have strong relationships with youth organizations in our communities.

All these concerns can be addressed, and we are supportive of the change. But we all realize that change can be difficult and, even in the best-case scenario, uncomfortable for those involved.

We agree with Frank Lynch, interim township manager at Lower Swatara: “In an age of diminishing resources, you really need to cooperate to get the best bang for your buck.”

This is a great opportunity for the school district, Lower Swatara, Middletown and Royalton to come together and create something great for all the residents. We look forward to seeing where it leads.