By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times
Birmingham City Councilors said Tuesday they were outraged by a proposal by the Parks and Recreation Board to close 12 facilities throughout the city.
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.
The council unanimously passed a resolution for the Birmingham Parks and Recreation Board to withdraw an item to close the centers during its meeting on Wednesday, September 16.
“We, the council, are going to do whatever we need to prevent this from happening,” said Council President William Parker. “. . . this resolution is a way for the Council to say that we need to look at alternative options and bring everyone to the table to discuss this serious matter.”
Councilors said 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.
“What we want is equity. I don’t think what we’re asking for is hard,” said Councilor John Hilliard. “. . . and let’s work together to do it equitably and feasibly.”
Council President Pro-Tempore Wardine Alexander said four of the 12 proposed rec center closures are in her district, leaving only one in the Oxmoor Valley Neighborhood and that one is across Lakeshore Parkway, while the others proposed for closure are more centrally located in the district, she said.
“The Council, collectively is absolutely opposed to these measures,” Alexander said. “We understand these are difficult times, but these are the wrong cuts to be making to the detriment of our residents . . . I am asking all of the council to join me in asking for those districts that are most affected, and these are the Western area districts, to find some equity in the services that the park board wants to provide to my residents in District 7 and to all of the residents who are affected.”
Parker, who sits on the park board, said he hopes the item is withdrawn and a comprehensive plan developed “where we can all work together with all of the stakeholders to provide services to our residents in all 99 neighborhoods,” he said.
Shonae’ Eddins-Bennett, Park Board Director, told the Committee of the Whole last week the board “tried to make it work” but the decision was made based on the furloughs and the remaining staff over 22 sites.
The park board’s proposed closures include:
- 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
Hilliard, who said he was alarmed by the possible closures, said there should be a way for rec department workers to cover all of the centers. “We just have to be creative in spreading current employees who are out there . . . because I don’t want my facilities totally shut down either,” he said, referring to Hooper City, Sandusky and Howze-Sanford.
The rec centers are needed now more than we realize and to duplicate those programs that are working; not eliminate them, Councilor Steven Hoyt said. “I think it is an opportunity to go back and see how those activities can be transferred… if something is working in the centers on the east or north, we need to see how it could work on the west… It’s time to challenge folks to get creative that is what’s going to make the difference.”
Rev. Gwen Webb, Inglenook Neighborhood Association president, also spoke against the potential closures.
“These centers are safe havens for our children,” she said. “To have employees cry on your shoulder and say what am I going to do now? That is a hurting thing for me… I am really hurt about this . . . I cannot sit idly by and look at this destruction that is happening. I ask that the park board reevaluate this and look at the harm it is doing all over this city with these rec centers being closed down.”