Mary Flynn Roberts’ asks if River Forest really needs a new rec center. [Does RF really need a new rec center? Viewpoints, Sept. 9] My simple answer is “yes,” based on the fact that the community has clearly told us that our area does not have sufficient facilities to satisfy its recreational needs.

While Ms. Roberts says River Forest is overwhelmed with recreational opportunities, the survey of River Forest residents that the park board commissioned in 2007 suggests that most River Foresters disagree. Fifty-three percent of our residents thought the park district could use an indoor jogging track; 44 percent asked for a fitness space, and 44 percent thought the district needed a weight room. These results were despite the fact that 51 percent of the respondents were members of a private health club, and 43 percent used private clubs for recreational programs. When nearly half of your constituents are asking for programming you cannot accommodate, you need additional space.

The park board knows the district needs more space. From 2007 to 2009, the district has dramatically increased its offered programming. Most of its programs are fully subscribed, and the users are always asking for more. The district was able to offer these programs by making creative use of its headquarters, but that facility is now bursting at its seams. The park district can only offer the additional programming that the community desires with increased space.

In her letter, Roberts quoted me as saying that “other available sites serve vastly different populations,” and I stand by that statement. Our survey showed that only 27 percent of the respondents used the River Forest Community Center for recreation programs. This is despite the River Forest Township indirectly subsidizing the community center by paying part of the salary of a center employee and absorbing the cost of maintaining its facility. Moreover, when I was a member of the park district task force attempting to work with the community center to merge our two organizations, I was repeatedly told by community center representatives that a merger of the two was not appropriate because the community center is not focused on River Forest residents.

Regardless of the characterization of a local paper, the park board did not hire a firm to “stump” for the referendum. They were hired to insure that the new center is not built based on what a few board members think. Instead, the firm will translate input that the park board receives into working drawings. The entire board wants to create a recreation center that reflects the needs and desires of the community. The park board will be holding public meetings throughout the fall, at which the firm will gather community input.

The park board welcomes everyone to attend and tell us what they want in the community center. I also invite everyone to attend a park board meeting to ask questions of the entire board.

River Forest Park Board Commissioner Molly Hague was a River Forest resident as a child for 10 years and moved back to the village she loves in 1992.

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