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`ADVOCACY PLANNING’ PAYS OFF FOR SWIM CENTER

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Citizen involvement in the creative process is revered by planning and architectural schools throughout America as the ultimate expression of the democratic ideal. As a society, we seem intrigued by a concept known among land planners and architects as "advocacy planning," a term describing the process by which the landscape is transformed, and new land uses are initiated, as a result of citizen involvement.

Cultural geographers like J.B. Jackson have said this phenomenon may be unique to America and particularly the West. Indeed, students have traditionally entered the design professions filled with optimism and energy, expecting to collaborate with neighborhood residents in the fulfillment of this ideal expression of their planning and architectural skills. Unfortunately, this rarely occurs.A recent project in Salt Lake City has nevertheless distinguished itself as a classic instance of advocacy planning. The Salt Lake Recreation Center, of which the Steiner Aquatic Center is the initial phase, represents a concerted effort over the past 10 years by volunteer community residents to fulfill a dream. It is a story that merits attention.

In August 1977, the Bureau of Land Management made 12.14 acres along Guardsman Way, originally a part of Fort Douglas, available to Salt Lake City under the stipulation that it be used for community recreational purposes. The city was initially required to implement a master plan for the expansion of Sunnyside Park, to be followed by construction of the recreation facilities. Once a substantial portion of the improvements were in place, the BLM would transfer ownership of the land to Salt Lake City.

Ione Davis, a member of the first City Council, appreciated the recreational potential and benefit to her community afforded by the BLM offer. She also became acquainted with parents along the east bench and Avenues who had become frustrated by the lack of enclosed swimming facilities and the necessity of transporting children to swim team practices at South High School in the wee hours of the morning. Bob Bridge, Joan Young and Ramon Johnson were among those parents who had become active participants in various public meetings intended to elicit comment for the city's east bench master plan. By 1982, a core group of community residents was meeting every Wednesday morning in the Armory on Guardsman Way to develop strategies and explore options for the BLM parcel.

Graduate students in recreation administration from Brigham Young University and the University of Utah helped by conducting surveys of user preferences. Anticipated costs for development of alternative types of facilities were prepared, and various planning and architectural schematics were voluntarily prepared by local firms. A report was completed in the spring of 1983, articulating a wide range of potential functions for a facility on the site, including gymnastics, court games, community council meetings, day-care, aerobics and weightlifting, senior citizen socializing, swimming, ice skating, field sports and other recreational endeavors. A proposed master plan was prepared, and everyone was optimistic. Then the rain fell.

The floods of 1983-84 were a serious setback, as the city was confronted with unforeseen financial obligations. The idea of creating a special service district was not well-received by some segments of the community. And although the upper Avenues and East Bench lacked the proposed facilities, the areas did not qualify for federal assistance. A $500,000 matching contribution was offered by Bill Reagan, a member of the citizens group, to build an ice rink. But the citizen effort could not muster enough enthusiasm or convince the city to capitalize upon his offer, which was subsequently withdrawn. Many began to realize that the opportunity to use the BLM land might be lost.

Undaunted, the group reassessed the situation and went back to the city with a less comprehensive proposal. Swimming had always been the cornerstone of the proposed complex, and it appeared the Salt Lake City School Board would be willing to discuss possible joint participation. Then-Mayor Ted Wilson suggested that a task force be formed to evaluate other options, and his staff began to work with Ione Davis and the citizens group. The city's Parks Department was encouraged to construct a soccer field on a portion of the site, and the BLM was understanding enough to extend the deadline for reversion of the land. Eventually, a concept for a three-way partnership between the city, the school board and private citizens was suggested as a means of providing the necessary financing for the swim center. Mayor Palmer DePaulis agreed to match funding raised by the private sector and the school district.

The city agreed to prepare a conceptual master plan for a phased recreational complex, with an aquatic center as the initial phase. The architectural firm of Gillies, Stransky, Brems and Smith was selected by a recreation board to prepare the plan that evolved as a result of direct citizen participation in various work sessions. Future expansion of the pres-ent Steiner Aquatic Center building is to include a full gymnasium complex, meeting rooms, an ice sheet for regulation hockey and figure skating, and outdoor athletic fields.

With this plan in hand, Maryann Webster went to PTA presidents, school principals and neighborhood council and City Council district meetings to inform residents of the proposed facility. And from this grass-roots level, support began to unfold. Steve Lowe prepared a financial feasibility analysis, and Kimball Young and Betsy Hunt helped marshal efforts to raise funds and coordinate political support for the project.

This year, the Steiner Corp. is celebrating its 50th year of operation. In commemoration of this landmark, Bob Steiner came forward with a contribution in excess of $850,000 toward the swim center, which turned the tide. Lorna Matheson, a member of Wilson's task force, and the school board voted to participate in the three-way partnership, and construction of the aquatic center proceeded.

The benefit of advocacy planning has been realized by this project, and it is a tribute to all the volunteers and their undaunted spirit that such a contribution to the community has been achieved. All aspects of this endeavor have been open to the public, and an effort to involve adjacent neighbors, such as the Veterans Administration and the University of Utah, in the design of the facility has been given a high priority. The proj-ect is a success story because of the role of volunteer community residents - an essential component in a creative design process.