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Olmsted rec board will be replaced; new alliance will have more varied programs, advocates say

Posted 2/28/18

By Dan Miller and Laura Hayes



Residents will have access to more — and more varied — recreational programs through a …

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Olmsted rec board will be replaced; new alliance will have more varied programs, advocates say


By Dan Miller and Laura Hayes



Residents will have access to more — and more varied — recreational programs through a new regional organization that will be run through the Middletown Area School District, advocates of the initiative say.

The Middletown Area Recreation Alliance, or MARA, will replace the Olmsted Regional Recreation Board, and is to be made up of representatives from the school district, Lower Swatara Township, and the boroughs of Middletown and Royalton.

The new alliance will offer programs that are not available to residents through the Olmsted board, said MASD school board President Linda Mehaffie, such as ballroom dancing, yoga, zumba, pickleball, soccer, volleyball, sewing and tennis.

“The sky is the limit,” she told the Press & Journal.

The alliance also could offer bus trips to places such as New York City — something Mehaffie said the Olmsted board used to offer, but has not in recent years.

However, the programs to be offered through the new alliance will need to be able to pay for themselves and be self-sustaining, she said.

The alliance is modeled on the regional recreational structure in the Mechanicsburg Area School District, where the program is led by director Tonya Brown.

Referring to the system in place in the Mechanicsburg area, “they try a program but if it doesn’t break even or make money, they don’t do it again,” Mehaffie said.

She said an overriding objective of the study was how best to provide recreational services on a regional basis, without “overlapping, duplicating, and spending more” than necessary, while also improving offerings to residents throughout the school district.

Middletown Area School Board, Lower Swatara Township and Royalton Borough Council already have approved an agreement creating the alliance and its bylaws.

Middletown Borough Council plans to approve the agreement during its March 6 meeting, borough Manager Ken Klinepeter told the Press & Journal.

Once in place the alliance will have an advisory board of two school board members, one council member each from Middletown and Royalton, and one commissioner from the township.

The agreement calls for the alliance to be effective starting July 1, and to run for an initial five-year term.

At the end of five years, the school board and the three municipalities can decide whether to extend the agreement if it is working, Mehaffie said.

Regional approach

Residents and the municipalities themselves should benefit from a more regional approach to providing recreational programs, said Frank Lynch, interim township manager at Lower Swatara.

“Typically, you only think about recreation opportunities in your own municipality,” Lynch said.

With MARA, residents will have access to any recreation opportunity that exists throughout the school district and the municipalities.

“We all have assets that don’t necessarily need to be used strictly and exclusively by (residents of that municipality). They can be shared,” Lynch said, adding that the MARA agreement is crafted to prevent duplicating provided services. “There’s no need for Middletown or Royalton to go out and build a soccer field if we have three of them [in Lower Swatara]. … In an age of diminishing resources, you really need to cooperate to get the best bang for your buck.”

The process leading to the new alliance began in 2015 with brainstorming sessions among representatives of the school district and the municipalities, Mehaffie said.

Lower Swatara Township applied for and received a $10,000 “Peer to Peer” grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Natural Resources. The grant was used to fund a study done by Brown based on the regional recreation program in the Mechanicsburg area.

According to Mehaffie, the study included interviews with community recreational volunteers, elected officials, school district coaches and others concerning “the needs of our community residents and children.”

The study also involved looking at all the fields and facilities that are available for public recreation throughout the school district and the three municipalities, Mehaffie said in an email to the Press & Journal.

Klinepeter said the alliance “plans to provide a better variety of recreation programs for all ages, better access to school buildings and grounds for community recreation programs, coordination of public-private partnerships and program marketing for potential private sources of funding and grants,” he told the Press & Journal in an email. The alliance will also be a “central source for public information and communication.”

Study findings

The grant-funded study by Brown has not been publicly released in its entirety, because the study is still being reviewed by the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and is not yet considered final, school district Chief Financial Officer David Franklin has said.

Brown in a telephone interview told the Press & Journal the study looked at the history of recreation in the greater Middletown area, and how recreation is used by residents.

According to part of the study released to the Press & Journal by the township, some of those whom Brown interviewed said while recreation is often focused on school-age athletics, the fields do not generate revenue yet require significant maintenance hours. The interviewees also said there is a need for more fields devoted to other types of athletics.

Others who were interviewed told Brown that residents wanted more opportunities — such as diverse recreational programs, trails, open space, river walks, dog parks, sand volleyball, Wi-Fi at parks, athletic fields and synthetic turf fields.

“Many interviewees feel that the community is definitely lacking in recreation opportunities for all ages and are eager for the necessary resources to establish a comprehensive year-round recreational program,” Brown wrote.

According to Brown, some of the future programs the new alliance could offer include yoga for seniors and afterschool care or computer courses at the school district. With youth sports already a strength in the area, summer camps could be held to highlight those offerings, she said.

The study also identified areas of strength and weakness. Brown said some of the strengths were the community as a whole, willing to work together. She said youth sports was another area of strength.

According to Brown, one of the weaknesses was that some of the recreation spaces in Middletown haven’t been kept up.

Brown said among study conclusions was the need to hire a full-time recreation director.

“I think it’s headed in the right direction,” she told the Press & Journal.

The alliance will hire a full-time professional recreation director who will be a school district employee. The alliance is getting a grant that will cover 100 percent of the director’s salary in the first year of the agreement, Mehaffie told the Press & Journal.

The amount of the director’s salary covered by the grant will be reduced by 25 percent in each succeeding year, until the grant goes away by the fifth year of the agreement, Mehaffie said.


How much the three municipalities and the school district contribute to MARA each year is to be based on population.

In the first year of the agreement, Middletown Borough is to contribute $9,346.05, Royalton $1,011.15, Lower Swatara Township $8.681.40, and the school district $19,038.60.

For the four years beyond that, the amount to be contributed by each entity will be based on a budget that will be developed to determine the total costs necessary to run the various programs to be provided, including costs to cover things such as personnel salaries and benefits, supplies, rental costs, and advertising, Franklin told the Press & Journal in an email.

The annual amount needed from the four entities will be reduced by any state or federal funds that become available to the alliance, as well as by revenue that comes in from users of the programs.

Grant funding would also reduce these costs, particularly the state “Circuit Rider” grant through DCNR that is to go toward the salary of the new alliance director for the first four years, Franklin noted.

Overall, the amount each entity contributes in succeeding years could be higher — or lower — than the amount required in the first year, depending upon the total amount of outside funding received, the amount that is charged to users of the programs, and how successful the programs ultimately are.

“The goals would be to have the programs operate more successfully each year to cover the loss of the (DCNR) grant funding, so that it won’t create additional costs for the four entities,” Franklin said.

Ideally, the alliance would like to get to the point where no contributions from the school district and the three municipalities are needed at all — meaning the recreational programs offered by the alliance would be completely self-sustaining, Mehaffie said.

Township Commissioner Christopher Dehart, who was newly elected to the Lower Swatara board in November 2017, has also said that the hope is that the programs offered through the alliance will eventually pay for themselves.

Next steps

Once all four entities approve the agreement, Lynch said a new full-time recreation director will be hired. Then the advisory board and director will work to evaluate the current recreational offerings and plan future programs.

When Lower Swatara commissioners approved the agreement, board Vice President Todd Truntz spoke of concerns he had received — mostly from the Lower Swatara Township Athletic Association — that MARA would step on its toes.

“I 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.