Bridge players may force new strategy for facilities

People don't generally pack a city council meeting unless they are angry or irritated about something. So, when 100 bridge players showed up recently at City Hall to discuss their concerns over the operations at the Richland Community Center, it's obvious their frustration level was high.

Judging by recent letters to the editor, bridge players also are well organized and are working hard to get someone to pay attention to their discontent.

Richland City Manager Cindy Johnson has become involved and has promised the bridge players she would look into their complaints and respond within a couple of weeks.

The sooner the issue is resolved, the better.

While it is the bridge players who are the most vocal, it appears they aren't alone in their concerns. Other community groups who used the Richland Community Center in the past have since moved on to using other facilities.

The Bechtel Women's Group, for example, quietly went away, choosing another venue for their brunches and dinners. Their members didn't say anything at the time, but now that the bridge players are complaining, it has come to light that they, too, felt the community center was becoming difficult to use.

And Richland doesn't have the only public facility that's found itself crosswise with the constituents it's meant to serve.

The decision by Benton County commissioners in June to terminate the county's lease with operator of the Sun Downs Training Center at the fairgrounds in Kennewick is another recent example.

In that case, the county cited violations of the lease agreement. And no doubt, community center employees in Richland have a number of good reasons why they've had to become more rigid in managing operations.

But it is a shame when public facilities -- wherever they are -- appear to be underused because groups don't feel wanted, or because space is allocated in such a way that prohibits additional use.

In fairness, the Richland Community Center is a beautiful building that must be staffed regularly, and there are security issues that were not as important when community groups used the old, run-down senior center.

The days of bridge players being able to let themselves in and out of a public building are gone. The liability simply is too high.

On the other hand, community groups should feel welcome when using public buildings, and space should not be left vacant and wasted. If there is too much red tape involved in renting a facility, or if staff is less than accommodating, users get frustrated and no longer feel comfortable in their "home."

Something is amiss at the Richland Community Center, but a little adjusting on everybody's part could help fix the situation.

Rules are necessary, but they shouldn't be a burden.

Both sides will have to be more flexible and understanding. If they are, there is no reason why the bridge players and city officials can't find a strategy that works for everyone.

If somebody wanted to check out how to manage public buildings the right way, one example would be the Mid-Columbia Libraries, especially the main branch in Kennewick.

The place is hopping. Getting a free meeting room is easy and the staff is pleasant and helpful, which is how it should be.