$2700 a day

All too often, the city administration behaves like the stereotypical Worcester driver: either it decides to take a right turn without ever switching on its directional, or it leaves its right directional on for five miles before suddenly stopping and turning left (and then wonders why the other drivers start flipping the bird).

The skating rink on the Common has been a punchline for so long that it’s quite appropriate that the city’s Facebook logo for the Worcester Common Oval has cracked ice.

If the ice skating rink is open Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays in December, January, and February, and include a school holiday in December and February, the rink will be open 47 days at approximately $125,000, or about $2700 for every day it’s open.  [paywall link here]

The next time you go to Elm Park and a swing is broken and you can’t find a decent bench to sit on, ask yourself why the city administration was able to find private donors for 47 days of ice skating.

The next time you try to eat lunch with your kids at Blithewood Park and can’t find a picnic table without a huge hole in it, ask yourself why the city administration prioritized an ice skating rink over much-needed park maintenance.

The next time you try to find a city-maintained pool, as yourself if the administration would ever allow a pool that cost $2700 a day to operate.

I’m sure everyone reading this could come up with a long list of overdue maintenance and lack of basic necessities at nearly every city park.

But this is about more than park maintenance, and more than finding money for extravagances while withholding funding for the basics.

It’s about a culture of keeping the public in the dark about things that affect them.

In another city, I suppose having a secretive Facebook page about a big announcement would be fun.

In Worcester, this isn’t a game — it’s business as usual.

The attitude of the administration is to not ask the public’s input until a project is well underway, if they bother telling them at all.

This is why I found out Hope Avenue was getting a rotary from a comment on my blog, not from an official government source.  (This is also why no one will tell us that the I-290 entrance on Hope Avenue is being configured to accept drivers from both sides of the road.)

This is why the folks on Salisbury Street didn’t find out their intersection was being reconfigured until their chihuahuas started barking.

I understand that the administration is wary of having citizens with pitchforks and torches protesting every questionable decision, but the pitchforks and torches come out when people are not informed ahead of time, not involved in a process, and have something sprung on them at the last minute.

I have been told that the library/hockey arena plan is only in the beginning stages, and that no decisions have been made.  But having lived in Worcester for much of my life, I have no idea what the beginning stages of a project look like, because it’s so rare that a citizen is allowed to see them.  How do I know that folks haven’t already shook hands on this?

Similarly, in the SMOC/Triage Center proposal for 1398 Main Street, the negotiations seem to have gone on for some time, but there was no time allocated for any citizen concerns.  And so the administration lost the support of everyone, even someone like me, who had no objection to that sort of facility in the neighborhood.

I’m sure folks have been working for months to make the skating rink happen for this winter.

But I think a lot of people would have preferred a discussion about the cost to maintain a rink for twelve weekends a year.  Whether or not it’s private money paying for it.

If the public had been given a choice of a few different parks-related projects, like a dog park or a few smaller convertible rinks (as we see at Crompton Park), for the same price tag (or lower), then perhaps we could have had a great public conversation about our parks priorities.

The issue here is not the skating rink.

It’s not even the cost.

It’s why the public is always kept in the dark, why the public is never involved in the larger planning discussions that happen, why the public is only told about projects when it’s too late to affect the outcome.