Run From Red To Black

Photos Courtesy Of City of Brunswick

In 2006, The Brunswick Community Recreation and Fitness Center, located in Brunswick, Ohio, was operating at its lowest level since opening in 1991. Over the years the membership declined, equipment aged, revenues decreased, and the building became dated. Membership was at a low of 2,261 members for a community of more than 35,000 people, and the center had lost over $400,000. The city was also facing financial constraints as the economy was changing; it was apparent a change was needed in the way the recreation center was being operated and managed.

A community survey was generated to analyze the wants and needs of residents. At the same time, an evaluation was compiled for all programs, and an analysis was performed to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the operations and the facility.

The Jumping-Off Point

The results were not surprising. Residents wanted improved customer service, extended operating hours, additional creative programming, and an overall updated facility. The evaluations revealed that many programs were not being conducted efficiently and were actually losing money. Using a math formula, a plan was created to identify key targets to turn the facility around. It was determined that the recreation center could become solvent in its operations within 3 years. But the real challenge was about to begin.

Within a week, a plan was developed to:

  • Reduce staffing levels

  • Identify key partnerships that could be created with local businesses

  • Increase programming, and solicit sponsorships

  • Create an aggressive marketing plan.

The plan was direct and not well-received among staff members. Although most understood the need for change, the majority was resistant, and within the first week of the plan’s introduction, more than 20 staff members resigned, which gave the administration the chance for new opportunities. New staff members were hired, bringing with them fresh, creative ideas, many “outside the box,” so a new vision began to take shape.

Rainy-Day Funds

By 2008, the recreation center became solvent. In that year, the facility’s membership increased from just over 2,000 members to close to 9,000. Members raved about the changes in the programs, which brought a new energy and buzz to the facility. With operations on track, it was time to create a capital plan. The city was able to set aside a 3-month “rainy-day” fund for operations, and any money that came in above the revenues versus expenses was set aside in a recreation capital-improvement fund. Since 2008, the center has been able to purchase more than $245,000 of capital items without taking a penny from the general fund, or without using any city tax dollars for its operations during this time.

The results have been outstanding. Many cities have recognized Brunswick’s success and have tried to duplicate it. So the question is, how did the center do it? Here are a few examples:

  • The recreation department sent out an RFP that secured SouthwestGeneralHealthCenter, a local nationally ranked hospital, to sponsor the facility, which provided more than $65,000 annually. The sponsorship also included free health testing and screening for members, which elicited some amazing comments.

  • Staffing levels decreased from 86 to 44 part-time positions and seven to one full-time position. The reduction in staffing decreased expenses while generating additional revenue at no cost to the city. Programs are now managed by private sports companies.

  • Through another RFP, a partnership was formed with a local senior-care center to operate the senior services at no cost to the city. This increased program offerings by more than 300 percent, and reduced the senior expense budget to zero for the city.

  • An aggressive marketing campaign was initiated, resulting in an increase of more than 400 percent in annual memberships, and the staff has been able to maintain this level for the past 5 years.

  • All programs were evaluated. Those losing money without a determination as to why, and those that could not be offered through a public/private partnership were cancelled. This freed up space for new, creative programming, which was identified through the survey.

  • The staff began to consider the recreation center as also a health and wellness center. For this reason, all areas of the facility were painted to give it a fresh, clean look.

  • The staff was aggressive in seeking local grants. One particular grant allowed the center to replace the old, dated lighting with new, energy-efficient lighting that reduced the annual energy costs by more than $20,000.

  • The department partnered with the local gardening club to redo all of the landscape beds for a fresh, clean appearance at no cost to the city.

  • The department met with local professional sports teams—the Cleveland Browns, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Cleveland Indians—that donated equipment to the facility. The department also created exciting community days on which residents could use the pro facilities for youth games and on field/court parades.

John D. Piepsny is the parks and recreation director for the city of Brunswick in Ohio. Reach him at (330) 273-8081 or via email at .