Out Of Commission

By Lisa Kruse and Tim Heyl

Cincinnati Recreation Commission’s (CRC) network of recreation includes 23 recreation centers, 33 aquatic facilities, 6 golf courses, and hundreds of playgrounds, sports courts, and fields. Often, these facilities are the hubs of the neighborhoods—just as Hirsch Recreation Center is the hub of the city’s Avondale neighborhood.

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When the recreation center was to be closed for more than a year to complete major renovations in December 2017, many people were worried. Where would the community go to play?

The center sits in a proud and active neighborhood that has been plagued with violence in recent times. Since January 2014, Avondale has seen the most gun violence of all Cincinnati’s 52 neighborhoods, with 187 shooting victims. In 2017 alone, Avondale led all of the city’s communities with 36 gunshot victims. Clearly, the community could not see another social safety net closed—even temporarily. With this reality, it was apparent something had to be done.

The Project
The project itself was huge—a major renovation of the existing structure with a sizeable (6,000-square-foot) addition. First, CRC Planning and Development worked with CRC leadership to review the opportunities and needs for the community and recreation center.

Then a feasibility study of the project site and existing building was conducted to better inform the overall direction and establish the parameters of the design within the budget constraints. After the feasibility study, designers, architects, and engineers were enlisted to work on the renovation. Construction began in February 2018.

As part of the $4-plus-million makeover, each wall, ceiling, nook, and cranny was touched. The center became fully accessible with an added elevator. There is a much larger fitness area with more equipment available, a variety of multipurpose spaces for adults and youths, and added security with centralized building-entry points to control the flow of visitors.

Along with the makeover inside the recreation center, there is expanded parking, an outdoor trail surrounding the athletic fields, and some needed TLC for the pool.

In order for this major renovation to take place, it was necessary for the staff to move out and the center to be closed. Staff members worked from different CRC locations throughout the renovation, and the public was still able to enjoy Hirsch programming through some innovation and hard work.

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The Programming
At the same time as the nuts and bolts of the renovation were being put in place, programming needs were addressed for all center users—from kids to seniors. Programming at Hirsch did not disappear—in some cases, it was relocated; in some cases, it reinvented itself and went mobile.

The neighborhood school was used to continue the after-school program. CRC held low-cost recreation programming in the school, which is located within walking distance of the center.

For adults and seniors, programming was redirected and relocated to a nearby CRC recreation center about a mile away. Hirsch Center programming continued at this location, and Avondale residents also had access to new opportunities. It was a win-win.

With the adults and seniors covered, it was time to address the kids and Hirsch summer camp. As there was no facility to help house kids in the summer, the idea of Club CRC Adventure Camp was born; it was decided to take programming mobile and into the Greater Cincinnati area. Meeting daily at the local school, participants explored the city by traveling in CRC vans, creating a new “adventure” each day.

Adventure Camp utilized Cincinnati’s extensive park system and visited several aquatic centers. In total, this program visited 20 neighborhoods, 20 aquatic facilities, and dozens of local parks and nature preserves.

But Where Will They Swim?
Unfortunately, due to safety considerations and construction efforts, the onsite Aquatic Center at Hirsch needed to be closed as well. This left the community without a recreation center or a pool in which to cool off during the heat of the summer.

In response, CRC created the Avondale Swim Program. Twice per week, a yellow school bus transported community members to a local CRC pool. The bus was fully staffed with CRC employees to maintain safe ratios when entering other aquatic facilities. On average, CRC was able to fill the bus on Tuesday and Thursday with more than 40 participants each day. This program was a great success in getting the community access in an unorthodox way.

How Did It Work?
It took a highly detailed strategy to move the programming to various locations without there being a disruption in the schedule. In order to make all of these plans work, additional funding was needed to support new staff members, camp admissions, and transportation.

In the months before summer, the mobile programming was proposed to a team of community partners and local organizations. Working together, money was raised to pay for the rental of an additional van, hire additional staff members, commission a yellow bus, and reduce the initial cost of camp fees to $25 per participant.

Programs and camps filled quickly to meet the demand of residents. The mobile Hirsch project was able to touch nearly 200 participants a day during the summer season.

Creating Memories
This renovation process created community connections with a newly polished center, pool, and programming. While the community has upgraded places to gather, the programming that was created for the Hirsch closure had a positive impact as well; it was much greater than just field trips, pool visits, and relocated classes. CRC Hirsch visitors made memories and saw their city in a new light.

Lisa Kruse is the Communications Specialist for the Cincinnati Recreation Commission. Reach her at Lisa.Kruse@cincinnati-oh.gov.

Tim Heyl is the Central Region Supervisor for the Cincinnati Recreation Commission. Reach him at tim.heyl@cincinnati-oh.gov.