Friday, October 19, 2007

The Business of Recreation

We all know there are certain things we SHOULD do, because they’re good for you. Exercising. Flossing. Not running with scissors. (It may be trite, but it’s still good advice.) One of these items is about to get a whole lot easier for the residents of Frisco. Next week, the Frisco Athletic Center is set to open near the corner of Preston and Wade. And in true Frisco fashion, it’s a doozy with 22,000 square feet of exercise space, racquetball courts, basketball and more. There’s a full-blown indoor water park, and another outdoor pool area still to come. In fact, the outdoor space is going to take up just as much area as the first building. There’s even a teen center that’ll provide entertainment and a safe place to hang out for the older kids. Certainly this is a facility of which we can all be proud, and fits the vision voters approved in the 2002 bond election. It stacks up to anything in Plano, McKinney or Allen. But it’s not without controversy. First, there are the membership fees. Some of our neighbors have decided that their facilities would be heavily subsidized by public funds. Thus, their resident user fees are comparably low. Our city council made the call that our center should be a self-sufficient facility, necessitating a much steeper fee structure. There’s also been some debate over the additional fees charged for activities. Originally, these fees were going to be charged for all additional activities, such as yoga classes and child care. After public feedback, the city decided to wrap those fees into the membership. Naturally, this is fine for those families that need day care and choose to use the add-on classes. But many residents wonder why they’re paying for services they’ll never use. Meanwhile, some activities, such as water aerobics, still carry a use fee. I expect that the city will continue to tweak the fee schedules as the facility matures and they get additional feedback from city residents, as is the case with all good businesses. Which brings us to the more significant issue, one which should be on our minds as Frisco continues to grow. What role should our city play in providing services that may be available from the private sector? One can certainly make the case that every city has a vested interest in promoting a healthy populace. And the new Athletic Center will provide some items that you can’t currently find elsewhere in Frisco. While we have a wealth of exercise clubs within the city limits, none of them provide the breadth of aquatic facilities, particularly for kids and teens. However, they do provide exercise equipment, basketball and racquetball courts. Thus, the new center will certainly compete with these private clubs on at least some level. Governments play a key role in ensuring the availability of a variety of services to its citizens, some of which are bound to conflict with private businesses. But where do you draw the line? There are other services that some cities provide that are also offered by private companies. One popular example is a golf course. Several area cities, including Dallas, Richardson, and Carrolton, maintain municipal golf courses. Here in Frisco, you can’t swing a 5-iron without slicing it in the water hazard on any number of public (though privately owned) courses. Do we really need another one? And if we do, should our city government get into the golf course business? At what point does the city decide it should provide a service, instead of leaving it to the private sector? An alternative solution is for cities to partner with private companies to provide benefits. A good example of this can be found in Pizza Hut Park and the surrounding soccer fields. By joining with the Hunt Sports Group and FC Dallas, our government helped create one of the finest soccer facilities in the state of Texas. The MLS team gets a new home, the city gets a new tax base, and residents – kids and adults alike – have the opportunity to play on great fields. I’m not suggesting that the Athletic Center is a bad idea. But I hope our city council and our next mayor will continue to look to the cooperative model that benefits everyone – businesses and residents – rather than taking a competitive stance that often costs more in the long run. And meanwhile, since I’ve already got my Founding Membership, you’ll probably find me sweating away starting next week. I hear it’s good for me.

Friday, October 5, 2007

What’s on Your T-shirt?

A student in a Texas school was recently expelled from campus for wearing the wrong message on his t-shirt. Was it some kind of racist comment? No. Gang slogans? Nope. Perhaps a beer ad, showing scantily clad bimbos frolicking with cartoon dogs? Not even. No, this teen had the temerity to sport a top emblazoned with “John Edwards ’08.” Now, granted, those are fightin’ words in some ultra-red parts of our state (and most of Oklahoma), but is it really enough to get kicked out of school? According to the Waxahachie School Board it is. You see, their dress code states that “T-shirts, other than WISD clubs, organizations, sports, or spirit t-shirts, college or university t-shirts or solid-colored t-shirts, are prohibited.” That seems pretty restrictive, but perhaps the wise village elders in that sleepy little hamlet figured that they’d rather be safe than sorry. At least they are very clear about their intent. They state exactly what is allowed. All else is off limits. (One wonders what their reaction would be to some of the Texas / OU “spirit t-shirts” I’ve seen around town this week.) My curiosity aroused, I decided to take a peek at what Frisco ISD has to say on the subject ( Our school board has not taken the route of imposing such a clear restriction. Instead, they rely on a policy that bans: “pictures, emblems, or writings on materials or clothing that are lewd, offensive, vulgar, immodest, or promote or refer to alcoholic beverages, drugs, or any other substance prohibited under policy FNCF (1).” The dress code goes on to prohibit “shirts or other clothing items depicting or promoting acts of violence, guns, weapons, death, dismemberment, disfigurement, gang activity or affiliation or other offensive items.” Other than these items, one might assume that anything else is fair game. Not so fast. To give school administrators that additional silver bullet, this item is included: “The district also prohibits any clothing or grooming that in the principal’s judgment may reasonably be expected to cause disruption of or interference with normal operations.” Any parent of a middle or high-school student can pick out the fly in that ointment: “Reasonable” is not an adjective often applied to kids at that age. And I’m not sure how a simple item of clothing can interfere with normal operations. On top of these broad banishments there are a few other, more specific items. “Shoes must be worn at all times.” Pretty much a no-brainer there. “Sagging pants are not allowed. Jeans, slacks, shorts, and all other pants must be worn at or about the waist at all times.” This is a fashion trend destined to take its place with bell-bottoms and leg warmers in the “what were we thinking” hall-of-fame. Then there’s this tidbit: “Clothing should be worn for the purpose for which it was designed.” Are we having a problem with kids walking around with underwear on their heads? The debate over school dress codes has nagged at school administrators since the Beaver wore an unbuttoned collar to gym class in 1958. The pendulum swings every few years from leniency to calls for standardized uniforms. I’ve even heard a few parents around Frisco extolling the virtues of this concept. A brief chat with someone who grew up in a system with uniforms shows that even they found ways to personalize their attire. The bottom line is that parents have to take responsibility for educating their kids on what is and isn’t appropriate. But beyond that, it’s up to the students themselves to make their own choices. As long as FISD sets out clear guidelines like those above, students have a wide range of latitude to express themselves through clothing. And the fact is, wearing oddball or outlandish styles is probably the least permanent form of expression they have. Outside of a few embarrassing photos in the yearbook, there will be little evidence of their “gangsta” phase after they mature. Now piercings and tattoos, on the other hand… don’t get me started!