Residents and Moorestown Township Council discuss yearly membership fees at the North Church Street Recreation Center
With renovations wrapping up at the North Church Street Recreation Center, township manager Scott Carew announced that the center’s grand reopening is scheduled for Dec. 7, starting at 1 p.m. Yet, following the news of the center’s re-opening was news that the township may also start charging a yearly membership fee for the rec center in January.
Councilman Phil Garwood announced the possible resolution during the workshop discussion portion of the Nov. 18 township council meeting.
Serving as a township council liaison for the Recreation Advisory Committee, Garwood explained to the council that the committee looked at what it cost to run the center and found that a membership cost would help to offset some of that expense.
In addition, Garwood said a membership would lend a hand to the accountability to keep track of who is coming in and out of the center on a daily basis.
“I think it’s going to be a big plus for the rec center,” Garwood said.
The prospective resolution would instate a $10 rec center membership per child for the year, if purchased in the month January, and $15 per child for the year after January.
Carew added later in the meeting that after the yearly membership for a child was paid, they would receive a plastic card, which they would use to get in or out of the building. He said the membership would not include additional fees for certain programs or activities at the center.
Garwood also spoke about the committee recognizing a need for a scholarship program for those who would not be able to afford the yearly membership, yet said the logistics of that program would still need to be hammered out.
Councilman Greg Newcomer also supported the yearly membership initiative, as he added that it would help the township to better evaluate the rec center as a whole.
“We could, in fact, see a greater value than we realized,” Newcomer said.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, several residents expressed their concerns when it comes to instating a membership fee at the rec center. James Little argued that a $10 fee would not be affordable to all families in Moorestown, especially those with multiple children. In addition, Little said he believed the rec center should be free to all residents.
Carew then later explained to Little that the level of supervision needed at the rec center has become “super expensive” and that the township is in need of a way to offset the cost.
“When we instate a $10 fee, none of us like to do it, but it’s better than not having a rec center at all,” Mayor Stacey Jordan said.
Garwood said he would bring Little’s suggestion to the committee about adding yearly membership family plans to make the rec center a little more affordable for families with multiple children.
Resident Kathleen Sutherland said while she is not against the fee, she stressed the importance of adequate advertising of the scholarship program, which would waive the fee for those with financial hardship.
“I’m not totally for the fee, but I understand that things need to be paid for,” Sutherland said.
However, Sutherland added that if a membership fee were instated, she would hope it would remain the same from year to year.
“I don’t want to see the fee go up, though,” Sutherland said. “If it goes up and up and up, I will have a problem.”
Resident Charles Pratt also spoke to the importance of having a place, easily accessible to at-risk youth as he spoke about his own experiences growing up in a low-income household and how the rec center kept him off the streets.
“I know my parents would not be able to afford it,” Pratt said.
Pratt also added that criteria would be needed for a scholarship program, but warned the council that families in need may be reluctant to divulge their yearly income for the scholarship.
“I don’t know how you get past this criteria thing,” Pratt said.
Attributing his success in basketball on a high school level at Moorestown High School until he graduated in 1974 and going on to play basketball in college to the rec center, Pratt said a free rec center is needed to ensure future generations are provided with the same opportunities that were provided to him.
“The kids need to go there. The ones of low-income, the at-risk, need somewhere to go,” Pratt said.
While the rec center will not start hosting programs until January, according to Carew, a grand re-opening is planned starting at 1 p.m. on Dec. 7. The reopening will follow the Lions Club’s Holiday Parade from noon to approximately 1:15 p.m. The MoorArts Holiday Arts Festival will be located on the third floor of the rec center from 1 to 3:30 p.m. Carew added that bands from the Moorestown Township Public School District are also slated to play around 1:30 p.m. in the new rec center, which includes new flooring, a new office space for the recreation department, and a third floor police quarters for officers with a street beat.