Claremont Junior Sports League's future up in the air
CLAREMONT — City Council members toured the Junior Sports League building on School Street Friday and found what, Claremont Mayor James Neilsen said, appeared to be a sleeping area.
A group of volunteers known as the Junior Sports League run activities in the building such as roller skating on Fridays and Sundays. The city also uses the building for basketball games.
Neilsen said he and the other council members were shocked by their tour of the building on Friday.
Yvonne Shuey, Chairwoman of the Junior Sports League Board, said she and the other volunteers that manage the building are devastated by what Neilsen has said. Accusations of there being mattresses on the floor on the third floor of the building are untrue, she said.
“If they want to close the building that’s fine, but don’t bring other people down with you,” Shuey said.
Management of the building is under city scrutiny after funds increased dramatically to the Junior Sports League over the previous 18-month budget.
The city owns the building that was once an armory. Shuey said the building was built in the 1930s.
The city started using the building for other uses more than 50 years ago when Neilsen was just a child growing up down the street from the former armory, he said.
Neilsen said Tuesday he is concerned the volunteers that run the building are not properly managing their finances or properly screening volunteers.
Shuey said the Junior Sports League works hard to maintain the building and refinishes the floors every summer. The JSL also runs state background checks on every volunteer, she said.
The city usually budgets $16,000 a year for the Junior Sports League. During the budget process this year, City Manager Guy Santagate recommended the city only budget $2,000 and review the situation. Santagate suggested the city find another use for the building and transfer ownership of it.
Concerned about continuing the programs run by the JSL, the city council voted during the recent budget process to fund $16,000 for the building. It was added to the city parks and recreation budget, so whether that money actually goes to the JSL is at the discretion of the parks and recreation department.
Shuey said there is an agreement dating back to the 1960s that the city pays for the heat and electricity costs for the building, while the Junior Sports League manages it.
Skating at $3.50 a child is offered Friday nights and Sunday afternoons during the school year.
If a child can’t pay, they are allowed to skate for free, she said.
“Cause we’d rather them be inside skating, than up on Pleasant Street getting in trouble,” Shuey said.
The volunteers care about the children and want to continue to offer a safe, fun place for children, she said.
“Not all the kids in our community can afford to go to the new community center,” Shuey said.
Friday night attendance ranges from 30 to 90 children, she said. If the heat and electricity is not funded, the JSL cannot resume roller-skating in the fall, she said.
During the tour Friday, Neilsen and council members found a room on the third floor that had two mattresses on the floor as well as a television and a microwave, he said.
There were bed sheets covering the windows, as if to make sure light coming from the room isn’t seen at night, Neilsen said.
The volunteer showing the city officials the building said children sometimes go to the room to lie down if their parents are volunteering and a child doesn’t feel well. This story concerned Neilsen and the other city officials, he said.
The volunteer then admitted he sometimes stays in the room overnight if there is more than four inches of snow. This arrangement also didn’t seem appropriate to the city officials, Neilsen said.
The room also appeared to have black mold, he said.
“The room sort of creeped us out,” Neilsen said. “I think everyone was kind of shocked by the conditions. … Of all the council members that came, the general consensus was they didn’t want to put money in the building. … and they were certainly shocked by that third floor bedroom apartment if you want to call it that.”
Shuey said there is a room upstairs with a couch. In the past, volunteers used it as a lounge. But since there are so few volunteers these days, they are either supervising children or working, mowing, cleaning or doing a building repair.
“I can honestly tell you that room hasn’t been used forever,” Shuey said.
In reviewing the Junior Sports League, city officials also learned that Shuey had up until recently been renting part of the building for her ceramics businesses at a low rate and some months for in-kind cleaning services.
Shuey has moved Ceramic Corner to 1 Pleasant St.
Shuey said she only ran the make-your-own ceramic business in the building five hours a week. It was an activity for children, and if a child couldn’t afford it, she would let them do it for free.
Neilsen said he and the other city officials also took time to talk to some of the children roller skating Friday night and heard the children’s concerns that they would have nowhere to roller skate if the building were closed.
Neilsen said a public hearing will be set to discuss the Junior Sports League and the future of the building.