JP Community Centers chair: Change is coming

John Ruch

In the wake of the city’s announcement last month that some of the 46 citywide community centers must close and consolidate, the chairperson of the local Jamaica Plain Community Centers (JPCC) board of directors told the Gazette that such change could be good for the system—as long as it done properly.

“I absolutely think it can and it should in some cases,” Kerry Costello said of the Boston Centers for Youth & Families (BCYF) proposal to close and consolidate centers. She spoke to the Gazette prior to a JPCC board meeting scheduled for last week about the closure idea.

Costello noted that Jamaica Plain could be a target of closures because there are four community centers here: one at Curtis Hall, and one each in the Agassiz, English High and Hennigan public schools.

“Am I thrilled about the idea [of closing some local centers]? Would I jump up and down? Of course not,” Costello said.

But, she added, “I’m not going to say, ‘Not in my back yard,’ because I feel they [at BCYF] do have to do something.”

The changes must come in “partnership” between BCYF and the local community center boards, Costello said. “Partnership to me doesn’t mean [saying], ‘I’m the king and queen up here, and you are the serfs out there…and we are promulgating our edicts,’” she said.

BCYF Executive Director Daphne Griffin, a JP resident, previously told the Gazette that some centers will be closed, but that there is no list of targeted centers yet. A series of three community meetings—none held in JP—to discuss the general closure idea wrapped up last month. The general idea is that BCYF can do more with fewer, better centers.

Griffin also told the Gazette that a basic piece of information in judging which centers to close is attendance figures. However, BCYF has been unable to provide those attendance figures to the Gazette for about a month. BCYF spokesperson Sandy Holden told the Gazette last week that the attendance figures are in the possession of the department’s “finance guy” and that the the document will be available once he “hands it over.”

The city’s community centers provide recreational facilities and programs to everyone from toddlers to seniors. BCYF, a city department, provides the space and basic staffing. Independent nonprofit boards of directors operate and provide extra staff and programming at the various neighborhood centers.

Costello, who also sits on the citywide community centers board, said Griffin already spoke to that group and presented her general idea.

Costello said she agrees with BCYF’s basic observations, including the large number of community centers, some of them very close to each other, with “lean” staffing.

JP’s four community centers are “fully operational,” Costello noted. All four are relatively close together, but JP kids sometimes face “territorial issues” if they have to pass through various sub-neighborhoods, Costello said.

The criteria for judging a community center for possible consolidation should include the “site’s capacity to provide more programming,” not just what is already in place, Costello said. She also called for examining the centers to see that they are not “inflating program numbers so they look better than they are.”

BCYF is accepting comments on its closure and consolidation idea, and on what programming should be at local community centers, at [email protected]

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