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Residents offer input for racquet club improvements

About a dozen people offered their opinions Tuesday to park district officials on possible changes at the Homewood-Flossmoor Racquet & Fitness Club.

The H-F Park District knows it has open space at the club, 2920 183rd Street, and is considering ways to improve the facility that was built as a tennis club in the 1970s. A pool, a fitness facility and other amenities were added when the park district took it over.

Park commissioners are considering moving away from a club atmosphere to a community center that could draw families, young people and older adults.

“It does not mean we would be taking away your fitness center, your tennis center or the pool,” said Debbie Kopas, executive director of the park district. “It simply means instead of swiping (a membership card) at the front desk, you would probably swipe at the doors of the fitness center or at the pool. The facility itself would be open and could have recreation classes, kids classes, other types of classes there and rentals that are open to the public.”

If the board moves forward, Kopas said the park district would hire a design firm to meet with staff, review the facility and how it’s currently used and then conduct focus groups with various constituencies to help the park commissioners decide how best to redesign the space.

How and where people spend their time is very different from what it was in the 1970s, or even 10 years ago, said Commissioner Steve Johnson. “The market we live in has changed with health club facilities being available…and that’s created a lot of challenges in terms of running that facility in a profitable way.”

Board President Brent Bachus believes that a larger percentage of the H-F community hasn’t been to the racquet club because it’s a membership-based facility. Changing to a community facility “might help us get a lift and people might be interested in the membership programs.”

Those in attendance were big supporters of the club. While none seemed opposed to the idea of additional programs, several put an emphasis on the tennis program urging that the courts need to stay and the program should be improved. They argued that the H-F club is the only one of its kind in the immediate area.

They did not want to see basketball added to the club.

One woman asked if the emphasis on change at the racquet club would mean changes at the Irwin Center. Kopas said both have an important role in the community, although the Irwin Center is used primarily for senior programs, preschool programs, early childhood programs and rentals. She sees the racquet club transformation as activities that are community based. She gave an example of fitness classes at the Irwin Center that could move to the racquet club.

Mike Nussbaum, a former parks commissioner, agreed that the club needs to draw younger participants and families. He said promotion would be the key to building membership and offered one idea: a reduced membership fee if you could get a friend to sign up.

One woman asked how the park would accommodate the handicapped. Bachus said any changes would comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

In other business, the board voted on several contracts for bond counsel and financial services that are part of the board’s efforts to refinance more than $10 million in long-term bonds for lower interest rates. Spear Financial expects to re-finance the bonds in December.

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