Community center rental rates questioned

The controversial rental hikes at the Hennigan Community Center on Heath Street were long overdue, but a “mistake” might have been made in the way they were carried out, said the group that sets the rates.

Meanwhile, the City and a local city councilor are questioning the move and its impact on local youth programs, one of which already left.

“It is quite modest considering it has been 10 years,” Kerry Costello, chairperson of the Jamaica Plain Community Center (JPCC), said about the Hennigan’s rate increase. JPCC jointly runs the center with the City.

She said JPCC surveyed surrounding community centers before making the decision to raise rates. She also said if the Roberto Clemente 21 basketball program and the Estrellas Tropicales dance group, two groups impacted by the recent changes, were given an ultimatum to pay up or get out, that was a mistake.

Sandy Holden, public information manager for the Boston Centers for Youth & Families (BCYF), wrote in an email, “This recent increase at the BCYF Hennigan Community Center is not common among BCYF’s 35 facilities and we are waiting to hear from the Council about why it took this step.”

At-Large Councilor Felix Arroyo, a JP resident, has met with the two groups and said they both have a proven track record of success.

“We all want these programs for the young people,” said Arroyo. “The idea, is what do we have to do to make sure these programs don’t fall by the wayside?”

The councilor said he is working with the City to try to find a solution.

The Hennigan’s raised rates, which occurred in January, places it more expensive on the lower end, and less expensive on the higher end when compared with a neighboring community center.

The Hennigan charges $50 to $70 to use its gym, while Mission Hill’s Tobin Community Center fees range from $35 to $100. The two facilities both take the finances of the groups into considerations. The fee may be reduced, and if the group does not charge money for participation, it may even be waived.

Roberto Clemente 21 basketball program and the Estrellas Tropicales dance group are claiming the JPCC is going back on its word to grant a waiver allowing free use of the Hennigan.

“The latest news is that I guess we have a different vocabulary,” said Alfredo Liriano, head of the basketball program. “To me, a waiver is exactly that. In their terminology, a waiver means to reduce. I had no idea it meant that.”

Costello said the two groups were never granted a waiver and were told in October that they would eventually have to pay.

She said that when JP’s four community centers were consolidated into two centers, there was large staff turnover resulting in policy not being followed. The fact these two groups are starting to be charged money stems from JPCC ensuring the policy is followed, she said.

“We can’t be giving everything away for free,” said Costello.

Liriano and Chickie Rivera, director of the Estrellas Tropicales, were told several weeks ago right before they were to use the gym that they either needed to pay money or get out. They were eventually allowed to use the facilities.

“We don’t go out looking for money,” said Rivera, who noted the group had been using the Hennigan for nine years without paying. “That’s not our goal to look for money. We are volunteers. We are not looking to make money.”

The Estrellas Tropicales have since left for the Tobin Community Center, which the group will use for free for the rest of the season. Rivera said she does not know if she would have to pay to use the facilities next season.

The basketball program is paying $12.50 an hour, a reduced rate of 75 percent, to use the gym at the Hennigan. Liriano said because of having to pay a fee, he would have to issue medals instead of trophies and forgo food during the end-of-the-season ceremony.

Costello said the JPCC voted to charge the two groups during an April 26 board meeting and a letter was sent informing them of the decision. She said if the groups were given an ultimatum, it must have been the result of miscommunication with Hennigan staff members. Costello said it’s not JPCC policy to turn away a program like that and that the two groups were not going to be charged until they received the letter.

“That was a mistake,” Costello said about the ultimatum. “That should not have happened. If that happened, I’ll deal with it.”

She noted that Rivera was recently voted onto the JPCC board in March, but was not at the April meeting.

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