Changes ahead for the Jones Center; Red Cross deal inked

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 159 views 

SPRINGDALE – The Jones Center for Families and the American Red Cross finalized an agreement Friday for the Red Cross to lease an office at the center and to rent additional space for educational classes. The arrangement is in line with the Jones Trust board of directors’ desire to find new sources of income to ensure the center’s long-term sustainability.

The Jones Center is seeking strategic boarders to boost the center’s bottom line while maintaining a wide range of services. Officials hope resident partnerships with community service organizations will be another step in leading the center to a more stable financial future.

The first such partner – Youth Strategies – moved into the 220,000-square-foot Jones Center last month. The strategic partnership with the Red Cross has been in development for a while, with final details worked out this week. The lease agreement was signed today (Feb. 3).

Mike Gilbert, chief operating officer for the Jones Trust, said the Northwest Chapter of the American Red Cross will lease an office for $150 a month for a year. The Red Cross is expected to rent classrooms as needed, Gilbert said, possibly three to four times a week. Room rates range from $15 to $200 depending on the size of the space and whether it’s needed for full-day or half-day. The organization’s class offerings will include CPR, babysitting, aquatics and airborne-pathogens training, Gilbert said.

“We will evaluate our agreement (during the 12-month lease period) and redefine it at the end of the year. Our mutual goal is to develop a long-term agreement that’s mutually beneficial,” Gilbert said.

Rebecca Morrison, executive director of the Northwest Arkansas Chapter of the American Red Cross, confirmed the organization has been exploring ways to work with the Jones Center.

The search for partner service providers is the latest in a string of moves by the Jones Trust board of directors to cut expenses and make the center sustainable for years to come. Over the last year, the Jones Trust altered its board structure and made staff and programming cuts that shaved 20% off the Jones Center’s expenses, said Gilbert. The result is a 2012 budget that’s $800,000 leaner than last year’s and a reduced staff that’s half its former size.

“We got lean and put the focus back on our core services,” said Gilbert, which includes maintaining recreational facilities, youth programs, and having public community spaces.

The Jones Trust board also wants to prevent further spending from the trust’s principal asset pool that sustains the Jones Center and other non-profit centers maintained by the Jones Trust. During the recession, directors spent more than $2.5 million from the trust’s principal when the return on investments was not enough to maintain the center facilities and programs, board member Ed Clifford said.

“Between 2007 and 2009, the assets took a hit. That money (to fund Jones Center programs) had to come out of principal,” Clifford said. “January’s been good. That helps. It doesn’t solve the problem. Last year was good (for investments). But neither you nor I can predict the future. That’s not the way to ensure a viable financial future.”

Clifford said the Jones Trust has assets of approximately $63 million to $64 million. The Jones Trust board oversees and funds the Center for Non-Profits in Rogers, the JTL Shop building, an education center in Springdale, and the Jones Center for Families. The biggest difference in those facilities is that all of them are supported by their own cash flow except the Jones Center, Clifford said. The board’s main goal is to find either an endowment large enough to sustain the center or enough revenue streams, through sources like resident partners and patron fees, to support itself.

The Jones Center, a legacy gift from the late philanthropist Bernice Jones to the community, costs more than $10,000 a day to operate, Clifford said. “One of the misconceptions is that people think there’s a big endowment for the center. There’s not,” he added.

While several groups rent rooms or recreational facilities based on time, Youth Strategies, a faith-based non-profit, was the only resident renter, leasing 150 square feet, prior to the Red Cross lease.

“For the community, partnerships can provide services that are needed, not services that are duplicated,” Clifford said. “From our side, we get to charge rental for that.”

Youth Strategies president Mike Fohner said the organization works with at-risk youth to plan their post-school futures, identify and address barriers, and teaches communication skills necessary in any work environment.

“One of the things we bring to the table is we’re working with a population that frequents the Jones Center,” Fohner said. “Twenty-three thousand young people will visit the Jones Center. This puts us right in the heartbeat. We saw that as an advantage.”

Youth Strategies’ programs include:
• Manna Gardens, in which students learn to grow food, take vegetables home for personal use, learn about charitable giving by giving produce to needy families, and sell the remainder to sustain the garden program;
• The Community Bike Shop, a business in Fayetteville where students repair bikes for Springdale and Siloam Springs schools and the Rogers Parks and Recreation Department, learning repairs and job skills while earning a paycheck; and,
• A landscaping business where students learn to think like business owners, reviewing bids, working on budgets and completing jobs. The ultimate goal is to help graduates find a job and, if college is part of their future, to help them plan to attain a degree.

Fohner founded Youth Strategies in 2005 and has maintained an office in the JTL Shop — another Jones facility — since then. He didn’t disclose his rent agreement, but said the non-profit will be paying more to rent space in the Jones Center than it did at JTL Shop. The increase is worth it, he said, to be closer to the city’s young people.

He said Youth Strategies may also expand its services to provide some grounds upkeep for the Jones Center, which would provide another work opportunity for teens and a savings benefit for the center.

The organization usually works with 25 to 30 kids at a time and has served 625 students in the last four years.

“We throw a broad net,” Fohner said.

Clifford said the board will meet in March with other potential partner organizations in hopes of securing more tenants that are a good fit for the center’s mission of serving the needs of the community and providing recreational activities where families can come together in a safe environment.

The Jones Trust board expects to fund the center’s $3.2 million budget with $1 million from the trust. The remainder should come from projected fees from patrons and resident partners and a larger share from major gifts, grants and private donations.

The center also depends heavily on corporate funding, such as the $250,000 donation made Wednesday (Feb. 1) by the Walmart Foundation. These funds are spent on youth programs at the center, including the fourth annual Summer Youth Academy, a seven-week educational summer program expected to serve 900 children. The grant will also help fund the facility’s YOUth Center, a supervised recreation area that provides activities and structured programming for kids between the ages of 9 to 17. In 2011, the YOUth Center logged 23,000 visits by area children.

Kelly Kemp-McLintock, the center’s chief advancement officer, said officials are looking at ways to increase the center’s daytime usage. Weekdays typically are the slowest times for the center, now in its 16th year. But it is still used heavily after-school, at night and on weekends, she said, often operating at or near capacity.

In 2011, 60,000 people used the pools, 100,000 used the ice rink either as participants or spectators, and 105,000 visits were made to the gym, Kemp-McLintock said. The center also hosts various meetings, conferences, parties, reunions and weddings in its conference rooms and chapel, and sees lots of visitors in its recently updated computer center.

Several organizations and clubs use the recreational facilities, as well. The Razorback Aquatic Club, Masters Swim Club, Aqua Hogs, the Springdale High and Har-ber High swim teams, the Northwest Arkansas Canoe Club and the Special Olympics all log time in the center’s pools.

And several ice skating clubs and associations have sprang up around the ice rink, which is used by the Ozark Figure Skating Club, the Ozark Figure Skating Association, the Northwest Hockey Association, the Ozark Hockey Association, and the University of Arkansas Ice Hogs hockey club team and the Curling Club.

The fit between the Jones Center and the UA sports clubs has been a good one, according to Brittany Veeler, the graduate assistant for club sports in the UA Recreation Department.

“They give us ice time at a discounted rate compared to other rinks around the country,” Veeler said. “It’s a good way for them to make money but we’re grateful to them that they’ve worked with us.”

Veeler said the Ice Hogs coordinated with the center to find a time that was good for its student athletes but that also would not take ice time away from the community. The college hockey team draws people to the center, as well. He said between 200 and 300 people usually turn out for the games.

Lindsay Smith, public information coordinator for the UA Recreation Department, said the department pays the Jones Center $62 per hour for four hours of practice each week for the Ice Hogs, as well as for game time, which usually lasts two hours.

The UA Recreation Department paid $6,231 to the Jones Center from July 2010 through July 2011, Smith said. The amount paid for the fall 2011 semester was not available Thursday, Smith said, but the club did log substantial hours at the rink.

In an effort to streamline finances and decision making, the Jones Center board disbanded last summer, with the Jones Trust board expanding from five to eight members. The board now includes two members from the center’s board, two members from Benton County and one at-large representative from Springdale. The new board arrangement, which oversees both the Jones Trust and the Jones Center, gives the center broader representation, Kemp-McLintock said.

The board hired an outside consultant to do a review and an audit of the organization, and sought input from the staff, Kemp-McLintock said. The search for redundancy of service — both within the Jones organization and from what was being provided by other groups in the area — led to the cuts in programs and staffing, including the closure of the center’s community television station, Jones TV, in September.

“I don’t think anyone had really sat down and did an analysis like we did,” Clifford said. “Once we did that, it was pretty obvious what staff we needed and what we didn’t. We had our mission’s vision, what was the core, what was needed. It was a pretty logical progression we used and we didn’t take a whole lot of time to do it.”

Clifford said most of the cuts and changes were made in six months. Changes were rapid because the board agreed quickly, trustees didn’t want to spend any more principal out of the trust and because they didn’t want to staff and the community to continue wondering what would happen next.

Thirty-two staff positions were cut in November. Other staff cuts were made throughout the year. One administrator resigned, Clifford said, and former CEO Rick McCullough, who’d held the position since September 2010, was let go in October as part of the cuts.

It has not been decided if the board will, at some point, try to put a new CEO in place, he said. Day-to-day operations are being handled by a six-person management team of Jones Center and Jones Trust officials. According to Gilbert the center employed 95 people last year at its peak. Currently, 53 people – 23 full-time, 30 part-time – work at the center. Additional people will be hired to assist with summer programming. Staffing is expected to peak at 70, Gilbert said.

Fee changes still are being considered, Kemp-McLintock said.

The center’s recreational facilities originally were free. A $2 charge for the ice rink, pool, and computer center was added in 2008, a change which brought in additional revenue, but also provided a different perception of the center among some patrons, Kemp-McLintock said.

“The community, all of a sudden, placed a greater value on the services and on the center,” she explained.

While fees have been in place for years now, people are still not turned away if they are unable to pay, she said

“We have a great staff here. They get to know the people, the kids, their stories,” she added. “No one will ever be turned away.”

“The more I’m involved, the more I realize the Jones Center is the center for their diversity,” Clifford said. “You will find all cultures in that facility today. It is the center of Springdale. That’s important.”