By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times
After much criticism, concern and some outrage, the Birmingham Park and Recreation Board on Wednesday walked back a plan that would have potentially closed 12 park and recreation sites.
Instead of closing the facilities, Shonae’ Eddins-Bennett, Park Board Director, said the recreation centers would operate three to four days a week with additional projects and programing being added to city parks.
Eddins-Bennett said she met with staff on Tuesday and the “rec centers will also be available for the community upon request when they are not open on those days that we have scheduled . . . and we’re going to cross-train across the city to bring other programs to other areas that do not have them.”
The Park Board’s reversal came after Birmingham City Councilors said Tuesday they were shocked by plans to close a dozen facilities throughout the city. The council unanimously passed a resolution asking the Board to withdraw the proposal.
The situation was worse because many of the centers proposed to be shut were mostly on the west, southwest and north sides of town, where many Black residents reside, councilors said.
Council President Pro Tem Wardine Alexander, who had four parks and recreation centers in her district on the potential closure list, said she’s encouraged by the collective effort to keep them open.
“I understand there are difficult decisions that must be made regarding the budget and this public health crisis we’re dealing with,” Alexander said. “However, I do not think closing these sites is the best path forward. We need to get creative and work together with all our partners to make sure our residents continue to have access to these valuable community assets.”
President William Parker, a member of the park board, who led the opposition to the closures, said the council “will exhaust all options to ensure that our residents have access to these parks and recreation centers. The list of proposed closures was not equitable and was unacceptable. All parties are going to come to the table and work this out in the weeks to come.”
The park board’s proposed closures were:
- Roosevelt City Park and Recreation Center
- Wiggins Park and Recreation Center
- Henry-Crumpton Recreation Center
- Harrison Park and Recreation Center
- Sandusky/Hudson Recreation Center
- Hooper City Park and Recreation Center
- Howze-Sanford Park and Recreation Center
- North Birmingham Park and Recreation Center
- Harriman Park and Recreation Center
- Brownsville Heights Recreation Center
- Inglenook Park and Recreation Center
- Willow Wood Park and Recreation Center
During a special called Committee of The Whole meeting last week, the park board outlined a list of sites that could potentially be closed due to budgetary cutbacks in the mayor’s FY 2021 budget.
The city is facing a $63 million shortfall and Mayor Randall Woodfin’s proposed $412 million FY 2021 budget includes furloughs including recreation center employees.
On Wednesday, Eddins-Bennett said the park board will continue to “engage the community as well as our neighborhood officers in developing projects that we can do in our rec centers and our parks, we already started with some before the furloughs happened, so we’re still working with those neighborhoods.”
As the largest park system in the state of Alabama, Eddins-Bennett said her department is ready to get to work. “We’re organized and we’re ready to roll,” she said.