Friday, September 16, 2005

Nowhere to Go, Part II

Closed for Season II

Below is the second email I sent to the City Commissioners, repeating my request for a key to the restrooms at Aberdeen Park.

From: Robert Harrison
To:,,,,,,,,,,,, "Thompson, Arnetta"
Date: Sep 15, 2005 12:54 PM
Subject: Re: Aberdeen Park

Dear Commissioners:

I have not had a response - in two weeks - from either the Parks Department or the Commission on whether or not the Creston Girls Tennis team will be given access to the Aberdeen restroom facilities. For those of you unfamiliar with our request, I would like to sign out a key to open the restrooms only when an athlete requests it and I am willing to be responsible for cleaning the restrooms. I currently have no option but to send people to the Burger King at Plainfield and Eleanor.

Signs have now appeared on the restroom doors stating they have been closed for the season. A port-a-john was briefly on site but appears to have been relocated or removed. (Please do not waste money returning it - my team has made it clear that they will not make use of it.) We are beginning to run out of time since our season will conclude Oct. 6. As of Thursday, Sept. 15 we have only 15 more days where we will either be practicing or playing matches at Aberdeen.

I find it hard to believe that a city that can afford a $50,000 consultant fee to teach bureaucrats lean administrative practices is unable to afford to open one restroom and have it's toilet flushed forty or fifty more times. In addition, I cannot understand how Mr. Zelinski concludes just having the water activated costs the City $84 a month, with water usage costing more on top of that. I don't even pay $100 for my quarterly water bills - presumably the City isn't charging itself retail costs here. (Perhaps this is the combined cost of the restrooms and sprinkler park?) Does Mr. Zelinski know that the outdoor drinking fountain was still operating at Aberdeen as of last week? I see this as evidence that the water to the facility had not, in fact, been turned off. (However, Mr. Zelinski is correct that I am not one of the Creston coaches who has abused key-privileges at Aberdeen. I apologize on behalf of Creston HS and am embarrassed to admit that abuses have occurred in the past.)

Finally, the fact that other teams or groups may want restroom access as well dodges the real issue. Restroom facilities at all our parks should be open while the weather is nice enough to use the parks - from mid-April through at least early October. Our city has not been a wise steward of taxpayers' money if it is unable to keep bathrooms open so children and families have somewhere to answer nature's call. How many millions of tax dollars have been poured into the Van Andel Arena and De Vos Place? How much profit for the City are these facilities making? Does anyone profit besides the vendors, the teams and outside managing firms?

Please look again at our City's multi-million dollar budget and see if you can find the few pennies it would take to keep the Aberdeen Park restroom available for my team's use.

Thank you,

Coach Robert Harrison
Creston Girls Tennis

Parks Superintendent Tom Zelinski's reply:
Date: Sep 15, 2005 2:32 PM
Subject: RE: Aberdeen Park


I thought my reply of August 31 indicated that it would not be feasible to open the Aberdeen restrooms for your team's desired use this fall. Upon review of my note perhaps it was too subtle. The following address the issues you raise in your last communication.

  1. No the restroom will not be available for use this Fall by any group.
  2. The porta jon that appeared was likely for last Saturday's youth soccer games that had been relocated to Aberdeen for one week because of the Indian Pow-Wow at Riverside Park. This one day rental was paid for by the soccer program (the porta jon may actually have been there for more than one day - depending upon when the vendor could deliver/ pick up, but the billable period was one day).
  3. The choices our department - and ultimately the City Commission - made relative to where costs could be cut were difficult ones and I am sure any number of them could be second guessed, depending upon one's perspective. Relative to restroom closings and the use of porta jons, this is an area our staff will discuss and review as we approach the next fiscal year's budget preparations.
  4. The "readiness to serve" charges are the actual amounts billed to us by the Water Department. They are based upon the size of the water service coming into the facility, and Aberdeen would have a considerably larger than typical service (park or residential) to accomodate the water playground and building. (The Water Department is prohibited from charging us a lesser rate than other customers - as much as I would like to see a discount).
  5. The drinking fountain may have been operable for a short period after the water playground program ended August 6. Our staff begins the shut down process for buildings, pools and irrigation systems as soon as they are no longer needed for our programs. This can result in a lag time of a couple of weeks depending upon the site. I confirmed with staff that Aberdeen has been shut off.
  6. The City - and our department - have been ardent supporters of the Grand Rapids Public Schools and there many programs. When it is feasible we make every effort to accomodate requests (as do the Schools with our programs). Please be assured this is not a "Creston" issue or a "Bob Harrison" issue but more simply a fiscal issue. I appreciate your expressed concerns and if it is feasible to alter the situation next year I would hope to do so.

If you would like to discuss this directly please contact me at 456-4233.

Tom Zelinski

Parks Superintendent

This was followed shortly by an email from Commissioner Tormala:

Date: Sep 15, 2005 2:51 PM
Subject: RE: Aberdeen Park

I have made my views clear on this before when I supported opening the restrooms and I agree with Commissioner Jendrasiak. Because of the impact on services I joined him in opposing the current budget which was approved by the rest of the Commission. If we can lay out $74,000 for an information desk we should be able to find money for our kids. However the blame for this does not rest with Mr. Zelinski and our Parks Department, but with the City Commission that approved the policy. Our kids deserve better.


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