Centre of attention

Friday, March 8, 2002

When the facility manager of the Osage Community Centre in Cape Girardeau flips through her calendar, there's very little white space these days.

Pencil scratches fill the numbered squares on Penny Williams' calendar. A party here, a reunion there. A reception one day, a car show another. And meetings. There are tons of meetings.

All that is in addition to the day-to-day activities, including dozens of daily walkers who stroll the perimeter of the basketball courts. During the evening, basketball and volleyball leagues play. Men and women pack the weightlifting room.

Five years after the opening of the 34,000-square-foot building, maintained by the city's Parks and Recreation Department, the Osage Centre is meeting its purpose, or its multipurposes, and the building is rapidly gaining popularity, Williams says.

In the last eight months, since the beginning of the city's fiscal year, 63,000 visits have been made to the building. That's nearly 4,000 more visits than compared to this time last year or a 6 percent increase.

"We are non-stop," Williams said. "There is always some kind of activity going on."

Movers and shakers

Norm Robert Jr. walks laps inside the Osage Centre every day. He has had some health problems and walking is good for him, he said.

"I think this building is the best thing the city has done for the community," he said.

Robert was among 45 walkers who showed up Thursday morning between 6 and 9. The building accommodates about 1,200 walkers a month.

"The thing I'm most proud of is that we serve so many different user groups," Williams said. "Kids, elderly, the walkers in the morning. We get the basketball players in here, so we get that crowd, too."

Clay Pope is also familiar with the Osage Centre. A referee for the city's basketball leagues, he calls many Osage games. But he also pays a $1 fee to play basketball two or three times a week when leagues are out of season. He's one of nearly 30,000 people who have paid a dollar in the last eight months to use the courts or the weight room.

Pope said he usually goes about 4 p.m., before it gets too busy. From 6 to 8, the building is often packed, he said.

"Do not go on Sundays," Pope said. "It's really busy on Sundays. A lot of times parents just drop their kids off and come back three hours later."

Overcrowding will lessen during the spring and summer months when weekend warriors head outdoors, Williams said.

For Pope, the Centre remains a bargain for all seasons.

If it weren't for the Osage Centre, "I wouldn't have anywhere to play ball except outside," he said. "And you can't beat a dollar."

Making money

Though the Osage Centre is a long way from being self-supporting, it generates the third-highest total revenue of the Parks and Recreation Department. And it generated $14,000, or 11 percent, more in the 2000-2001 fiscal year than it did the year before.

The top moneymaker for Parks and Recreation are municipal swimming pools, followed by fees from sports leagues and similarly organized activities.

Most of the building's financial support comes from the city's general fund.

Richard Mayfield believes his tax money is being put to good use.

Before he injured his knee in a basketball mishap earlier this year, Mayfield used the Osage Centre about twice a week to shoot baskets.

He's considering taking advantage of the weight room more often.

"It's a good deal for the weights," he said. "At the workout shops, you pay 35 to 40 bucks a month. At the Osage, you can pay a dollar and have your choice on how often you can afford to go."

Other uses

Even though more people use the Centre for recreational purposes than for any other reason, that is only half of the building's objective. And it's not the most important half, Williams said.

The building's primary purpose is to provide a place for meetings and various events, she said.

The Osage Centre became a meeting place for the Harley Owners Group rally last year. Fund-raising dinners have been staged. The building has been the scene for blood drives, high school reunions and company Christmas parties.

Mobil Corp. even reserved the building once to simulate a national disaster situation.

bmiller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 127

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