This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.
It was easy to let the Sprinker Recreation Center slide for many years while deferring expensive renovations and repairs. Now comes the reckoning.
The center’s main building – which has been loved to death by hundreds of thousands of people – will have to close this fall, a victim of long neglect. The gravest problem is the dilapidated roof, which is weakened and could collapse under heavy rains, winds or snowfall.
Permanent closure cannot be an option. In terms of usage, the programs at the Spanaway center constitute literally half of what Pierce County Parks & Recreation offers countywide: About 50 percent of its organized recreational activities happens in that single location. Sprinker saw 314,00 visits last year; it’s one of the most popular destinations in the region.
The 34-year-old building has been declining for years. It is visibly in disrepair, and skaters have long had to cope with water falling on the ice from the rusting roof. Its structural problems are underscored by signs of general decrepitude.
Many outdoor activities, such as baseball, could continue after the closure of the building. Lost would be the center’s nationally recognized full-size ice rink. That means the loss of figure skating, public skating, skate lessons, adult and youth hockey, league games – a host of opportunities only Sprinker is able to provide in such abundance to Pierce County. Indoor tennis is threatened, too.
The timing is rotten. This centerpiece of the county’s recreation system is dying square in the middle of a severe recession – precisely when it will be hardest to find funds for an overhaul estimated to cost $28 million to $34 million.
Several possible solutions have been identified. Roger Bush, chairman of the Pierce County Council, has been exploring the idea of creating a separate taxing district – like Tacoma’s Metro Parks – which would assume responsibility for Sprinker and other recreational assets now funded through the general county government.
County Executive Pat McCarthy has floated the possibility of using existing bonding authority or real estate excise taxes – or a combination of them – to fund the project. These options would necessarily divert money from other underfunded priorities. (To save money, the county has already all but abandoned the maintenance of 25 parks.)
McCarthy is also talking about a straightforward, voter-approved levy to revive Sprinker – with renovation costs mitigated by the prospect of higher revenues from an improved center.
This seems the worst possible moment for a project that would require new taxes or put further stress on the county budget. But somehow, Sprinker must be saved.