ITHACA, NY – The Community Recreation Center (CRC) in Lansing is a not-for-profit recreation complex that has been the go-to place for several local sports organizations, including several youth sports groups. Several of these organizations are now questioning the center’s commitment to the ideas of “community” and “non-profit.”
CRC is the home of the area’s only publicly-available enclosed ice rink, known as “The Rink” as well as a 20,000 square foot athletic field known as “The Field.” It was built around 20 year ago with help and donations from many local community members.
In 2014, CRC launched its own in-house youth sports programs for hockey, indoor baseball and indoor soccer, under the team name Bandits. Since that time, these local sports groups say, their relationship with CRC has changed for the worse.
In June, a letter signed by four of these organizations was sent to the CRC’s Board of Directors, airing a list of their concerns. Heads of Ithaca College Men’s Club Ice Hockey, Ithaca United Soccer Club, Ithaca Youth Hockey Association (IYHA) and TC Waza Academy signed the letter.
According to the letter, CRC began restricting access to its ice and field around the same time that their in-house leagues started.
The IYHA used to purchase 25 to 30 hours per week of ice time from The Rink, spending from $70,000 to almost $90,000 a year during the 2011 through 2013 seasons. In 2014, when the Bandit league started, their ice time was cut to just two evenings, and the IYHA spent around $40,000 on ice time that year.
In 2015, CRC informed the IYHA that only one hour of ice time per week would be available, according to the letter — not enough to serve the approximately 250 kids who play with IYHA.
Compounding the issue, members of the affected groups have reported visiting the CRC on days when they were told there was no available time, only to find that the the center was simply closed or the ice rink dark and not in use.
Public skate time has also been declining during this time, according to the letter, from roughly 26 hours a week several years ago to 12 hours a week this season.
Additionally, the groups claim that CRC has shown a lack of transparency in setting their rates. Rates have been raised without warning, and different groups appear to be charged different rates without having a clear or consistent indication as to why.
In addition, some of the groups feel they are paying premium prices even when using the space at non-competitive times, such as weeknights. The hourly rate at the field is reported to be $200, while the rates at the community sports center in Cortland are almost half that at $110.
Since the changes at CRC, many of these local groups have turned increasingly to similar centers in Cortland, Skaneateles or the Lynah Rink at Cornell — though the first two require substantial commute times and Lynah has its own availability restrictions.
The letter also questions the relationship between CRC staff and board members and the Bandit sports programs. They note that several paid coaches for the Bandit teams are either CRC employees or board members, and stand to gain directly by the Bandit programs being successful.
Also, when the Bandit hockey program launched, part of their charter said they would not draw players from IYHA or the Cortland youth hockey league. According to the letter, however, at least 30 players have left the IYHA or Cortland league and now play on the Bandit hockey team. Members who leave a Bandit team to join another organization are barred from rejoining the Bandit team.
The underying concern expressed is that CRC is working to build up its own teams at the expense of the other local sports organizations, and operating more like a private for-profit entity than a community-focused non-profit.
“Why we built it”
Inside the CRC there are plaques commemorating many of the people who contributed their time and effort to help build the facilities.
“My uncle, who was one of the founding people who donated money and time — he was always there when they first opened — when I told him what was going on there, I thought how sad it was because he said, ‘That was why we built in in the first place, was so that IYHA would have a place to play,” said Kelli Cartmill, a parent involved with youth lacrosse.
“All the people that did that originally for a cause, they have no idea that’s going on, when I shared that with him he just looked so defeated,” she said.
Cartmill also echoed some of the concerns expressed in the letter, saying that she learned that the lacrosse organization was paying a different rate for field time than a baseball organization that was playing at the same times.
Community Recreation Centers’s general manager Russ Johnson declined comment on these issues, saying only that CRC has tried to resolve the issue with the concerned groups individually. However, the groups have only approached CRC as a collective and CRC did not wish to negotiate with a group.
(Featured photo courtesy of Ithaca Youth Hockey Association’s webpage)