Community Center Hiking Out-Of-Town User Rates
With little discussion, the Board of Selectmen authorized a rate hike for out-of-town users of the Newtown Community Center, effective March 1. Depending on the membership category, those users will see a $3 to $8 increase in their monthly membership fee.
Center Director Matt Ariniello and Community Center Committee Chair Kinga Walsh appeared before the board to explain their request during a special meeting January 25.
Ariniello noted that the last time he appeared before the selectmen was to present initial membership rates. He also noted that due to restrictions posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the community center was forced to close for four of the last ten months, causing Ariniello and his staff to “conform and change our business model to meet the needs of the community.”
That quick pivot helped the center stay profitable, despite the immense challenges of operation in the COVID era.
“We are seeing high traffic,” Ariniello said, pointing out that swimming is a low-impact activity that is drawing significant nonresident attendance to the center. He told selectmen that the additional access three days a week to the high school pool is relieving some of the pressure related to scheduling, which ensures the proper allowances for distancing and sanitizing.
“It’s been brought to our attention that more swim time is needed by residents, and the ultimate goal is to raise revenue and improve resident experience,” he said. “So at this time we do feel a nonresident rate change is necessary.”
Ariniello said the plan was always to review rates and to raise nonresident rates if needed, and with an eye on remaining revenue neutral, that time had come.
During a brief presentation Ariniello noted that the center continues to be somewhat financially dependent on nonresident rates for continued sustainability. He said currently, nonresidents make up just under one-third (29 percent) of users — a seven percent increase since last February.
His research showed that neighboring community centers with similar facilities have lower nonresident usage, noting Ridgefield at 21 percent and Shelton at 25 percent. Also, among those nonresident users of Newtown’s community center, seniors, primarily from Southbury, make up 41 percent.
Walsh said it is important to make all center users happy, “but we have a special place in our heart and consideration for Newtown [residents] specifically.”
“We’re not alienating, we’re not discriminating, we’re just tying to make sure anything we hear back from [town residents] we address quickly,” Walsh said.
Since the virus hit early last year, Ariniello said the center has lost 35 percent of its membership or 249 users.
Walsh told selectmen that when the center opened, there was a small difference between resident and nonresident users “to draw traffic,” but now, the demand is spurring center leadership to initiate an increase that was in the planning as far back as last summer.
“We’re going to see how well members react, and whether there was any impact,” she said.
Ariniello will be monitoring how the nonmember increase influences attendance, with plans to revisit and review details by October.
The center is also launching a new reservation program in March that will better integrate with center membership software. He said it will allow the center to extend reservations beyond the current 48-hour lead time window, as well as integrating with personal mobile iOS calendar applications.
Letters detailing this information will be sent to nonresident members, permitting them the opportunity to close out their memberships within 30 days.
The approval passed unanimously.