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City: Changes at Miller Rec not meant to force groups out

SALISBURY — A Salisbury official says no one was asked to leave Miller Recreation Center when the city contracted with the Salvation Army, and all are still welcome at the facility on West Bank Street.
Assistant City Manager Zach Kyle said the city partnered with the Salvation Army to offer programs at Miller Recreation in part because more people, not fewer, would have access to the facility. The Salvation Army, which just wrapped up summer day camp at Miller Rec and will operate after-school care there starting Monday, has a voucher program for families who cannot afford to pay and will not turn anyone away, Kyle said.
But some people who live in the West End community near Miller Rec tell a different story.
Emily Perry said she started asking questions about why the Salvation Army had “taken over” the facility after she heard a Salvation Army leader speak rudely to her 4-year-old niece when he did not realize Perry was in the room.
Perry and several other people brought their concerns before City Council this week.
Critics say the city never informed the community that the Salvation Army would run programming traditionally operated by the city. Children, adults and organizations that have used Miller Rec in the past have been turned away and told the Salvation Army, they said.
Cheryl Freeman, the volunteer leader of the Salisbury Drill Team, said she was told her dance team, which includes up to 60 at-risk youth, could no longer practice at the center.
Deedee Wright said several other clubs run by parent volunteers who had used Miller Rec in the past were turned away.
Despite the vouchers, Perry said she knows several people who were told they could not enroll their children in after-school care because they could not afford $70 a week. Four city staffers known and trusted by the community no longer work at Miller Recreation, Perry said.
Perry said she was told by a city staff person that the center was no long open to everyone on the West Side but only to those who participate in Salvation Army programs.
Kyle said there has been a misunderstanding. The Salisbury Drill Team and other groups that previously used the facility are welcome, Kyle said, and he will consider proposals from any organization that would like to run programs out of Miller Rec. They should call 704-216-PLAY.
Kyle said a few months ago, the city approached the Rowan County United Way, looking for an organization to offer programs at the center. Parks and recreation departments in other cities often partner with agencies that can offer more programs and services, he said.
The United Way brought together a variety of member agencies, including the Boy Scouts, YMCA, Youth Services Bureau and Communities in Schools.
“From there, we started talking about how do we provide a holistic approach to recreation in the West End,” Kyle said, including both Miller Rec and Hall’s Gym.
The city signed a 36-month facilities contract with the Salvation Army for use of Miller Rec. Either party can terminate the contract with 90 days notice.
The city provided some staff this summer to ease the transition, and all fees for summer day camp went to the city, Kyle said. This fall, fees for after-school care will go to the Salvation Army, which will provide all staff as well as transportation from school.
The Salvation Army has an extensive line-up of programs ready for the fall, including tutoring, character-building classes, music conservatory, cooking and etiquette lessons and more. All classes and lessons are free with the $20 weekly program fee. Scholarships and vouchers are available.
The programs are extensions of those the agency already has in place at its Bringle Ferry Road office, according to Lt. Josh Morse, head of the Salvation Army of Rowan County. Morse has said he hopes to cut the West End’s 17 percent dropout rate in half within three years.
Kyle said he hopes the Salvation Army is not the only group that will offer programs in Miller Recreation and Hall’s Gym.
“Other organizations could be involved,” he said. “There is a lot of room for growth in programming in both of those facilities.”
A private resident ran a dance camp at City Park this summer, attracting more participants than city-run programming a year ago, Kyle said.
Kyle said fees for summer camp and after-school care at Miller Recreation have not gone up with the Salvation Army, which had between 35 and 50 participants at Miller Rec each week this summer, similar to the city’s numbers last year. He said the hours are the same as well.
Kyle said he’s been surprised by criticism of the arrangement.
“We’re trying to provide a service to the area, and everyone has the same goal,” he said.
Kyle said the city has conducted numerous surveys of the West End, as well as other neighborhoods, to understand what residents want and need for recreation. City officials have met with many residents about Miller Rec and are working to alleviate their concerns, as well as prepare an overall plan for the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, Kyle said.
He said the sign-up system at www.salisburync.gov/play does not yet include all programs at Miller Rec, and he encouraged people to call 704-216-PLAY for a complete list and to register.
“There was never any intent to turn anyone away,” Kyle said.
Contact the newsroom at 704-633-8950.

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