Tuesday, February 18, 2003

Recreation center's child care called pricey

By Erica Solvig
The Cincinnati Enquirer

MASON - Marce Epstein of Mason works out at least three times a week at the YMCA in Blue Ash, using the center's child care to watch her three children younger than 5 years old.

The 40-year-old had anticipated that come the March opening, she'd be using the Mason Community Center on Mason-Montgomery Road. But when she crunched the numbers for two hours of child care and fitness classes three times a week, she found it would be nearly three times the price at the new facility - from $780 a year to upward of $2,200, she said.

"Even as a member of the new rec center, the Kids' Korner rates are exorbitant," Epstein told City Council members at last week's meeting. "The rates will drive city members away from using the facility."

After she explained the situation that she and other parents with young children might be in, council agreed to take another look at the pass prices. But any changes would probably not take effect for at least a year, City Manager Scot Lahrmer said.

Rates at the community center, a joint project between the city and Mason City School District, were established to cover the operational and maintenance costs. They are competitive with rates at similar facilities in places such as Dublin, Lahrmer said.

Annual family passes are $375 for community residents, $600 for nonresidents. Community residents include anyone living inside the city or the Mason school district.

"We don't want to get into the position where the taxpayer is subsidizing the community center," Mayor John McCurley said.

Pass holders get discounted rates to exercise classes and Kids' Korner, as well as the Lou Eves Municipal Pool.

Access time is split between the public and Mason students. The 149,000-square-foot facility, next to the new high school, includes an indoor walking track, basketball courts and a competition pool with a floor that can be raised or lowered to provide different depths.

While the close-to-home location and new equipment are appealing, the higher costs might keep parents such as Debi Kaplan of Mason away from the community center.

"I was thinking of leaving the Countryside Y (in Lebanon)," the mother of three said. "At this rate, I just don't think I can."

City Council members plan to discuss the center's rates in committee, likely the one that is working out the operational agreement with Mason City Schools.

The center's dedication and open house will be March 1.

E-mail esolvig@enquirer.com

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