Sunday, February 29, 2004

Mason center marks first year



By Michael D. Clark
The Cincinnati Enquirer

MASON - This booming community became a city in 1971 but waited until last year to create a recreation center.

But when Mason city and school officials opened the doors to the $20 million, state-of-the-art Mason Community Center one year ago Monday, it was clearly worth the wait, say residents who flock to the facility.

"It's definitely very nice," said Mason resident Charles Dugan as he paused recently on his way to an exercise class in the center, which is connected to the equally modern, $45 million Mason High School.

"I remember when Mason didn't even have an outdoor pool," said Dugan, a 25-year Mason resident, as he gazed at the 158,300-square-foot center's two indoor swimming pools - including a water park with a giant slide.

Considered to be one of the largest such facilities in Ohio, the community center has wowed members and high school students, many of whom take advantage of the exercise, health, instructional and medical options provided by the center. (The center was built by Mason Schools but is operated by the city.)

City Manager Scot Lahrmer described the community center's first year as a success, saying "customer feedback has been very positive."

"We're also very pleased with the cost recovery for the community center," he said.

"We have a 77 percent cost recovery with revenues at 77 percent of expenses, which is above the national average (for similar facilities) of 70 percent."

More than 3,300 families use the Mason center. More are expected in the coming years as Middletown Regional Hospital, which last year signed an agreement with Mason schools to provide physical therapy and eventually medical services in the center, increases its on-site health and medical service program to an estimated $300,000 investment for both students and residents.

Shelly Benesh Hausman, spokeswoman for Mason Schools, said she would grade the unusual partnership between the center and the high school a solid "A."

"It provides great opportunities for our students," Hausman said. "We share the competition pool, auditorium and fieldhouse, which are used for physical education classes.

"Through our partnership with Middletown Regional Hospital, our students also have opportunities to shadow physical therapists, athletic trainers at the center and other health and medical professionals."

Mason school parent Sandi Condon said the center "is what keeps me living here."

Mason High School sophomore Greg Vanolst, 16, especially likes being able to walk at the end of the school day from his school building into the community center to play basketball.

"It gives you a place to go after school and that's good," Vanolst said.

"If kids don't have a place to go, they get bored and they can get into trouble."

E-mail mclark@enquirer.com




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