“We knew this day was coming.” That sentiment, no doubt, is one many Ottawans have thought as they enjoyed the ability to use the Ottawa Recreation Commission’s Goppert Building to exercise, walk laps, enjoy open gym time for basketball and any number of other health and fitness activities at no charge for more than two years. That free ride is coming to an end in January, as the ORC takes the inevitable step of charging a small amount per visit to use the facility.
While taxpayers continue to pay adequately for the community recreation center, which was built without an increase in taxes, its daily maintenance and eventual upgrades to replace well-used equipment are another matter. The new pricing is $1 for ages 6-11, and 60 and older; $2 for ages 12-59; and free for ages 5 and younger. Pass cards will be available in quantities of 30 and 60 at a reduced per visit price. With sign-in attendance of about 52,000 people during the past year, a little bit certainly could go a long ways toward paying inadequately-budgeted utility and maintenance costs at the Goppert Building. Still, even nominal costs might be too much for some visitors to bear, so the ORC’s board should consider how to accommodate those in dire need of indoor rehabilitation without the resources to pay for those services.
These fees won’t affect spectators and participants in youth and adult sports leagues, so the impact will be greatest on those who use the second-floor exercise equipment and walking track at the Goppert Building. Policing these varying users might be problematic. The ORC also might face higher expectations — especially with regard to the building’s hours of operation, which have been scaled back in recent months — from users once they are paying each time they use the facility.
While the ORC staff considered a number of other ways to cut expenses and increase revenue, the board would have been wise to give the public — and even the Ottawa school board, which is the funding entity district for the ORC — an opportunity to weigh-in on the pricing issue even though the board has the legal authority to do so without such input. Saving for a rainy day kept the ORC from having to make this decision any sooner than it did.
The Goppert Building remains a valuable community amenity regardless of the fee. Perhaps someday when the building is paid off, it once again can go back to being free, though the public shouldn’t count on it happening since buildings typically end up costing more rather than less to operate.
The old expression, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch,” refers to a practice in the 1890s of saloon owners offering a free lunch to customers who purchased at least one drink. Of course, the free lunch was filled with salty foods designed to encourage the purchase and consumption of even more drinks. Similarly, a cost to exercise might improve its perceived value at offering an opportunity to bring fitness to their lives.
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