Cooper Street Rec Center needs love

The following editorial was published in The Daily Sun on Sept 5, 2023.

OUR POSITION: A recent back-and-forth at a Punta Gorda City Council meeting made it clear to us that council members might benefit from spending more time at the center.

We were surprised when, at a recent Punta Gorda City Council meeting, some members seemed to have little knowledge about how New Operation Cooper Street Recreation Center works, nor its history.

The conversation, if you want to call it that, began when council members were discussing city owned properties leased to nonprofits and when they got to Cooper Street Recreation Center members asked if the buildings were being used for a public purpose by the nonprofits.

It seems some council members — including Donna Peterman who represents District 1 where the center is located — have a problem that part of the upstairs building is being subleased for an entrepreneurship program. City Council members asked what that had to do with helping children.

It all led to Vice Mayor Melissa Lockhart suggesting all leases be reviewed.

It caused us to wonder how many City Council members have actually visited Cooper Street Rec Center.The question was pertinent especially considering it was at that meeting when Martha Bireda informed the City Council the air conditioning system in the building does not work.

We emailed Peterman, since it’s in her district, to ask if she had visited the center and if she knew the air conditioning system does not work.

Her reply was to discuss issues about Cooper Street Rec Center with Assistant City Manager Melissa Reichart.

We were puzzled at that response so we emailed Peterman again, asking if she understood what we were asking and if she had visited the center.

Our second email got a reply that she has visited the center in the past three months and the repairs to the A/C were being dealt with.

Cooper Street Rec Center has been the go-to for kids since we can remember. It’s always been a place that provides the glue for a neighborhood of Punta Gorda that has always felt neglected.

It wasn’t that long ago that the Punta Gorda YMCA, of YMCA of Southwest Florida, partnered with New Operation Cooper Street to increase youth development services throughout the community.

The partnership allowed both organizations to offer youth programs at the recreation center, 650 Mary St., Punta Gorda.

The idea was to increase the opportunities to promote academic success and address educational disparities, according to a news release when the agreement was announced.

The late Dr. David Klein was serving as president of NOCS at the time. He said the partnership was “truly great day for our community and our kids. Cooper Street Recreation Center will continue to expand its unique and powerful presence in our community, awhile the YMCA can provide a solid financial structure along with new programming opportunities.”

Reichart returned our call and explained Peterman was likely following protocol which is that information runs through her and individual council members are asked to send queries her way.

“I can tell you that at least four of the council members did visit the center in July when we had a ribbon-cutting for the YMCA (partnership),” Reichart said.

As far as the problem with the air conditioning system, it’s being taken care of.

“We had it scheduled for repairs Aug. 30 but the hurricane hit and the vendor said the next date available was Oct. 5. We’ve been able to work with them and move that date up to Sept. 8.”

All good news. We hope the conversations and reactions from the Cooper Street Rec Center supporters have sparked a renewal of interest and dedication to the facility which has long been a model of what’s right in Punta Gorda.