By Charlotte Fife-Jepperson / Photos by Charlotte Fife-Jepperson
The Sorenson Multicultural Center has been a valuable recreational amenity in the Glendale neighborhood since 1996. That amenity was enhanced when the Sorenson Unity Center opened its doors to the public in 2008, offering arts, cultural, computer and afterschool/summer programs.
The Sorenson Multicultural Center houses Steiner West Pool, Louie’s Boxing Gym, two large gymnasiums and classrooms.
The Sorenson Unity Center to the west of the SMCC houses a fitness center, technology center, black-box theater and a low-income dental clinic.
All facilities on the Sorenson Center campus are owned by Salt Lake City, but since 2010, the Sorenson Multicultural Center and the Fitness Center in the newer Unity Center building are operated by Salt Lake County. Keeping these two centers (and the parties responsible for managing them) straight can be a confusing feat for anyone. Adding to the confusion is the transition of directors at the Sorenson Unity Center. For a period of time in 2016, no one knew exactly who the director was. On top of that, two longtime managing employees of the computer center were let go by the city.
So, when the city didn’t immediately renew their contractual agreement with the county at the end of 2016, employees and local residents were very worried about the future of the center. Rumors ensued, and lack of communication from city officials only made it worse. Some of the rumors were that the city was going to take over operations of all the facilities, that the fitness center was going to be turned into a daycare for city employees, and that the center might even turn into a homeless shelter.
The SMCC Advisory Board (comprised of local residents, Lynn Green, John Smith, Marisa Egbert, Wilson Sporl, and Katherine Fife) became concerned and began meeting with Salt Lake City representatives to get accurate information to address rumors and pass on to residents.
The Advisory Board organized a public input meeting that was held at the SMCC on April 6. About 50 people were in attendance.
At the meeting, the Advisory Board announced that the city and the county intended to enter into a long-term contractual agreement regarding the operations of the SMCC. City and county staff listened to attendees, who had multiple ways to give their input and express their opinions about the future of the center. People stood up and spoke in a microphone and their comments were written down on large sheets of paper, written comments were given, and people voted on their favorite programs by placing stickers on posters.
Many residents expressed their appreciation for the center’s programming, especially boxing, aquatics, fitness, dance, arts and education offerings. They also had plenty of praise for the staff, but felt that maintenance of the buildings could improve. Others asked for new programming.
Jay Ingelby, who is a long-time advocate for the Glendale neighborhood, said, “We need counseling for people in the neighborhood, especially seniors. Sunday Anderson Senior Center, Riversbend Senior Center and the Sorenson Center could work together to do outreach to find out the needs of our neighbors,” he said.
Mateo Holt said, “The boxing gym gives kids a place to come afterschool to get away from the drugs that are taking over...to get away from bad things happening at home.”
An emotional Marie Skipps got up and asked, “If the center isn’t here, where do we go? Our parks are not safe for kids...” She went on to scold the city about the poor condition of some of the amenities at the center. “We have rusted lockers, sub-par gym floors...to the city folks: Fix the buildings! What repairs need to be done? This is your house!”
All of the public comments – both written and spoken – were delivered to Corey Rushton, the city representative over Special Projects for Public Services. Advisory Board Chair Lynn Green felt that the meeting went very well. However he encourages community members to remain involved. “Go to community council meetings and stay abreast of what’s happening with the center,” he said.
Advisory Board Treasurer, Katherine Fife, echoed Green’s sentiments. “I really feel that the outcome could have been different if community members hadn’t spoken up when they did at community council meetings and elsewhere,” she said. “But, we are really encouraged by the coordinated efforts we’ve seen so far between both the city and the county.”
According to Rushton, four different work groups with both city and county staff are currently meeting weekly to lay the groundwork for drafting a new, long-term contractual agreement for the center. They are working on issues dealing with facilities, finance, programming, and communications.
Contract legwork and negotiations should be finalized sometime in July. Then it will be presented to both the city and county councils for approval. As a buffer, a temporary contractual agreement is in place through the end of 2017.
Rushton confirmed that new gym floors will be installed in August through September with $483,000 appropriated by the city.
There is still time to express your concerns and opinions about the Sorenson campus through suggestion boxes in both buildings or by completing an online survey at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/SorensonCampus (in English) or
https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/SorensonCampusSp (en español). Survey closes May 28.