Metro Parks Tacoma’s new STAR Center is unlike anything else in Tacoma, and it bids fair to be a model for the future.
The $4.5 million building is at the center of a plan that gets the public into all the recreational resources on the 75-acre South End Recreation and Adventure (SERA) campus.
It gets the City of Tacoma, Pierce County, Boys & Girls clubs, Tacoma Public Schools and Joint Base Lewis-McChord collaborating on programs.
If it works as well as expected – and that will take a willingness to get over old practices and turf – the concept will guide other community centers around Tacoma, said Shon Sylvia, Metro Parks’ director of recreation and community services.
Sylvia’s an avowed numbers geek.
“I’m so data-driven,” he said. “I have to go out and test everything.”
He has gut feelings. He listens well at adversarial meetings. He understands the passion of special-interest groups. He respects them all, but he trusts census counts of seniors, people with disabilities, ethnic populations, school enrollment figures, survey results.
“The main thing is to listen to everyone’s concerns, wants and desires, and figure out how to connect the dots,” Sylvia said. “As a public servant, that’s my job.”
That’s how his team approached plans for STAR.
They had the unfortunate luxury of seeing a previous community center plan sink. It did not get the big grant it needed, nor did it collect much love in South Tacoma. People there are loyal to their old community centers. These places reflect the real neighborhood better than some regional center, residents have said at scores of meetings. Getting the new and losing the old is a bad trade for them.
“They really want the best and are vocal about it,” Sylvia said. “Their consistency really stuck with me.”
It has struck park board members, too.
Metro Parks wanted to close Manitou Community Center. Volunteers, artists and a day-care provider have kept it open by taking over operations. The board supports the Manitou team’s drive to buy the campus.
South Park Community Center is beloved for its beauty and the vitality of its programs. Sylvia recruited The Asia Pacific Cultural Center to lease it. Expect luaus, dragon dances and calligraphy. Sign up for the hot hula classes.
The result is a new center, with no loss of the old, and minimal expense to taxpayers.
Sylvia’s team surveyed residents on what they wanted. A nice place to meet friends, everyday fitness, play groups for little kids, adventure for older ones, and a community kitchen topped the list.
The team inventoried the resources already in place at the schools and clubs.
They built their plans for STAR passes and classes around the results.
The STAR Center, at 3873 S. 66th Street, doesn’t have a pool, but it makes Mount Tahoma High School’s pool available when the school isn’t using it. It doesn’t have a basketball gym, but it opens the gyms up the hill at Gray Middle School and across the parking lot at the Boys & Girls Club for off-hours public use. The school, club and center share the tracks and playfields on the property. STAR has a Wi-Fi table, but the real computer lab is at the Boys & Girls Club. It has a ballet studio and practice rooms for musicians, but painters and potters can use Gray’s art facilities.
Data show that South Tacoma is rich in seniors and people with disabilities. They wanted a kinesis workout room to reclaim and keep their range of motion.
Proud of their neighborhood, residents wanted a great space for weddings and a first-rate demonstration and catering kitchen. The wedding space is booked through November.
Its windows will look out onto a landscaped retention pond, walking paths and the new home of the South Tacoma Farmer’s Market. There will be community gardens, too.
Young families wanted an indoor play forest for young kids, an outdoor adventure playground for older ones, a gym full of machines, including three bikes that generate electricity when they’re ridden. They wanted a cafe and a lounge full of comfy chairs.
The STAR Center is a big mix of a unlikely elements that mesh together within its walls and pull together all the resources around them.
It’s unique, and it’s exactly what the people of South Tacoma said they wanted.
Kathleen Merryman: 253-597-8677