By Elizabeth Hacala
The Recreation Commission met on January 10 to review Springs Brook Park (SBP).The meeting began with a review of the 2017 SBP season with park Director Matt Mulrooney and Assistant Director Braden Chagnon.
There was a consensus among the Commission and Recreation staff that the uncertainty around whether or not the park would open in 2017 hurt membership considerably. There was an uptick in memberships last year, yet attendance stayed lighter than expected. A big contributor to the lower attendance last year was poor weather, especially on Saturdays, and although Sundays were generally nicer days, the park was closed on Sundays. In response to public input last year, the park opened two weeks prior to the end of school. The attendance was very low for those two weeks.
The programming at SBP continued to be popular: arts and crafts were well attended and the kayaks and paddle boards were both heavily utilized. The meeting discussed other possibilities for increasing and retaining older kids’ attendance at the park. Among the ideas were a future swim team and zip line.
The Commission and Recreation staff were in favor of bringing Summer Adventures swim lessons back to Springs Brook Park. The recreation department will be working with the Summer Adventures Director to explore ways to add swim lessons without adversely affecting staffing. The Commission discussed scenarios like having the Summer Adventures groups come on alternating days, or half the Summer Adventures campers coming to an early lesson, and the rest coming later. Both scenarios would allow swim lessons while minimizing the peak number of lifeguards needed during the day.
The commissioners thanked Mulrooney and Chagnon for coming and sharing their insights. Commissioner Robin Steele then presented a model she developed based on actual expense numbers from last year. With input from the Recreation Department, she determined the average salaries for each type of position, created spreadsheets detailing the staff needed for days swim lessons were offered and days they were not, and a model for staffing if the Park were open on Sunday.
Commissioner Virendar Kaushik expressed a concern that the park had been overstaffed last year. Recreation Department adult coordinator Raeann Gembis replied, “We were not overstaffed, we were … under-enrolled. We had 184 kids in lessons and the year before we had 300 and some.” Kaushik stated that he had had two dozen people approach him with the same feedback that they saw multiple lifeguards “standing around doing nothing” last year.
Gembis pointed out that the park activity is weather-related and if employees lose too many hours, they are likely to quit, leaving SBP under-staffed. Gembis also explained the protocol used to determine when staff is sent home if the park is slow. A balance needs to be struck between sending staff home and risking staff quitting. Also, Gembis pointed out that if they send staff home and the park gets busy later, the staff does not return, so if the weather changes or the park becomes busier, they may have to turn people away.
Kaushik expressed his concern that the Commission is asking for financial support from the town to pay for Springs Brook Park; this is a perception that needs to be addressed. Commission Chairman Ronald Richter, pointed out that Gembis has 30 years of experience at the park and always staffs according to her best professional judgment and to ensure safety. “You have people coming down… they go through their protocol if it is a rainy day or a slow day, and they get rid of as many people as they can…It’s a trade-off,” Richter said.
Gembis explained that they could cut back on hiring, but it would come at the cost of services and members might need to be turned away at the gates due to safety issues. “It is like the past snow storm. If we’ve only hired 30 DPW workers and it didn’t snow last winter, so we cut back and now we had that big storm and we only have 10 to clear the roads, do we not clear the roads?”
Steele said she felt last year was really hurt by the uncertainty around lifeguards and not knowing until April whether or not they would have enough guards to open. “Every year since I’ve been here it’s ‘Are we going to open this year?’ and I think that kills us.,” Steele continued. After a brief discussion of how the uncertainty affects memberships and swim lessons, Steele added “I just wanted to say one thing, no one is attacking you [Gembis]. We think you are doing a good job.” Recreation Director Amy Hamilton and Gembis said they would review the protocol again to see if changes could be made and explore other activities staff could do in those instances where the park is slow.
After a nearly two-hour review of the model, options, and membership scenarios the Commission determined a path forward.
In response to last year’s experience, the Commission recommended the following operational changes for the 2018 Springs Brook Park season.
- The park will open on or about June 20, keeping in mind the last day of school
- The park will be open Tuesday – Sunday. The limited membership will now cover Saturday, Sunday, and evenings after 4 pm
- Swim lessons will not require a membership for Bedford residents, allowing them to opt to pay the daily admission fee as was previously allowed.
With the addition of the Sunday hours, the Commission voted a $25 increase to the limited family membership rates, $275 for Bedford residents and $375 for non-residents. Other membership rates will remain unchanged.
Editor’s Note: A 20-minute budget discussion to support Springs Brook Park’s 2018 season is on the Selectmen’s agenda at 8:05 pm on Tuesday, January 16, 2018