2013-10-24 / Front Page

Findings from rec survey unveiled

Town needs to improve promoting its programs
By Margo Sullivan

On average, Jamestown residents say they use the parks and beaches at least a dozen times and attend at least five cultural events each year, according to a survey by University of Massachusetts consultants Rob Haley and Monica Lamboy. Moreover, the study revealed that most locals feel the Parks & Recreation Department does a good job maintaining its facilities.

Haley and Lamboy were hired last summer from the Edward J. Collins Center for Public Management to evaluate the Recreation Department at the Town Council’s request. On Monday, they presented their “preliminary findings.” The report indicates the department successfully follows best management practices in numerous areas, but also has room for improvement, primarily in communications.

In his experience, Haley said, he has never found a department that “meets all standards of best practice.”

The department made the grade in five categories, he said. First, it has a master plan for Fort Getty, the largest facility under its purview. Second, it asks for feedback about its programs and encourages people to let staff know about new programs they want. Third, the staff works with numerous community groups to meet their recreational needs in “an equitable fashion.” Fourth, the staff has tapped into support from local businesses to help pay for events. Fifth, the department has a track record of organizing many successful programs and events, such as the summer concert series and the Jack-O’-Lantern Jog.

These were “selected in a pointed way,” he said, and added the department followed many other best practices.

As for areas where the department can improve, Haley said it should have a comprehensive strategic plan, similar to the master plan for Fort Getty. Although the staff does ask program participants for feedback and ideas, there are “no formal surveys” to collect the information.

The other areas for improvement involved communications. Haley said the staff doesn’t coordinate programs with other town organizations, like the library and the arts center. Haley said the department also doesn’t have sufficient contact with local community groups and clubs. Finally, the Recreation Department successfully publicizes its services and programs through the Jamestown Press, but does not have other “distribution networks.”

Lamboy said 411 people answered the survey. It asked 19 questions about recreation services, programs and facilities, plus six personal questions to help the consultants assess the age, sex and other demographics of the responders.

Almost all the respondents identified themselves as residents, she said, noting 97.4 percent live in Jamestown. They were equally distributed across age groups, except for the 65 to 74 age group, which responded in slightly higher numbers than the other groups.

Many of the comments were “very positive,” she said. “There really was a lot of support.”

According to the survey, 80 percent of the respondents use the parks 12 times a year or more, which shows the “adults are out enjoying the amenities,” she said. The most popular destinations were Mackerel Cove, Beavertail, Fort Getty and Fort Wetherill.

“The four facilities that got the greatest use are large unprogrammed spaces,” she said. According to Lamboy, it was where people went to swim, exercise, read, relax and go boating.

According to the study, cultural events were also well attended. Lamboy said people appreciated them because they enrich the quality of life; unite people from all different age groups; connect new residents with longtime Jamestowners; and tap into an awareness of beauty. Islanders are surrounded by natural beauty, she said, and they are attracted to arts and culture.

The most popular community event was the Fourth of July fireworks, followed by the summer concert series and the Fools Rules Regatta. Exhibits and craft shows sponsored by the Conanicut Island Art Association, as well as productions by the Jamestown Community Theatre, were also mentioned.

Haley said the consultants will produce the final version of the report, pending receipt of comments from the town councilors, by the end of the week. Haley and Lamboy will return next month to deliver another presentation with their recommendations.

In completing the study, the consultants met periodically with the Town Council’s appointed steering committee, Haley said. Members were Councilors Thomas Tighe and Eugene Mihaly, Recreation Director William Piva, Town Engineer Mike Gray, and former Town Administrator Bruce Keiser. They also conducted interviews with department heads, rec department staff and community members.

“We looked at organizational structure,” Haley said. The consultants developed a descriptive profile first. They also facilitated three community meetings to hear from residents on three general topics: special events, arts and culture; recreational activities for adults and seniors; and recreational activities for youth and teens.

Council President Kristine Trocki invited public comment. No one responded initially, but later Mary Wright of the community theater asked if the consultants had received survey comments from the younger generation. Lamboy said most of the surveys had been completed by an adult but made reference to youngsters in the household.

Resident Christopher Walsh also wanted clarification about the list of programs that the department offers.

What do you mean by the word “provides,” he asked.

Piva said in some cases, staff runs the program, while in other cases, it provides space or other support.

Councilor Mary Meagher said there would be some better definitions of “what constitutes a rec department program” as the consultants presented their recommendations.

Councilor Blake Dickinson said the Town Council is working on an improved town website, but he asked Haley if the lack of “electronic media” is consistent with other communities with similar demographics.

Lamboy said she did not have that comparison, but thought the residents would go to a web page if they found the information they needed. However, Lamboy says Jamestown is the first community she has seen that gets its information from a single source, being the Jamestown Press.

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