YOU CAN TELL a lot about an organization by how busy its parking lot is and how long staff members stick around. By both measures, the seems to be doing very well.
Twenty-one years after opening, the facility at the intersection of 103rd Avenue NE and NE 124th Street in Juanita is a bustling epicenter of activity. Every hour, Kirkland residents of all ages hurry through the doors to attend a variety of classes and events -- on dance, tumbling, science, art, exercise, music, theater, creative writing and lots more.
People come, people go but most days of the year a few things stay the same. First, the center remains a well-utilized community resource for individuals, families and groups. Second, the center is run -- as it always has been -- by a core of committed staff members who have been with the center for quite a while.
Michael Cogle, Kirkland Parks deputy director, has worked with the center from the start.
“Before we had the ,” he recalled, “we didn’t have a community center. We had a senior center, but other programs offered to the community were either held at schools, in the basement of the old Kirkland library -- which you had to duck your head to enter -- or in a couple of community buildings we rented by the hour.”
In 1988 when that area of Kirkland was annexed, the Eastside Foursquare Church was trying to sell their property. Community leaders realized that with the purchase of the church facility, they would have an opportunity to create a centralized home for the programs they were offering. The surrounding acres, which at the time had single family homes on it, would provide public park space that didn’t previously exist in that part of town.
In 1989 a bond measure was passed and the city bought the church and modified it to include a multi-purpose room, classrooms, dance studio and art room. It opened in 1990.
That’s when Tracy Harrison joined the team. Hired as a recreation coordinator, Tracy was responsible for coordinating programming at the center. Today, with the help of a recreation assistant and a second coordinator, NeSha Thomas-Schadt, who manages sports and fitness programming at the center and throughout Kirkland, Tracy is in the same role. The difference, though, is that the program offerings have expanded from those listed in a 16-page brochure in 1990 to a 79-page seasonal catalog that expands to 88 pages in the summer.
“I love the Kirkland community,” said Harrison. “I wouldn’t want to work anywhere else. I consider myself fortunate to help create programs that impact our participants' lives in so many positive ways. You can’t imagine the smiles I see every day!”
The North Kirkland Community Center allowed Harrison and her team to not only offer the same programming under one roof, but to improve the quality, provide a wider schedule of class times and to expand the breadth of what was offered.
DANCE IS ONE of the most popular programs, providing classes ranging from mommy and me ballet to preschool ballet/tap to adult belly dancing and the Argentine tango. “We are excited to have a number of new and accomplished dance instructors joining us this year,” said Harrison. “Our classes offer affordability as well quality instruction.
Programs range from pre-school to seniors, with classes in theater, science, messy art, tumbling, sign-language and music, to writing, Hoola anda variety of fitness offerings. The center's 12- to 14-week Move It Fitness Pass offers an affordable, full schedule of classes ranging from Pilates to Zumba.
“A lot of decisions about what is offered come from public input,” explained Harrison. “If someone is looking for something that’s not offered, we look into it. We ask the public. We ask attendees how we’re doing. We look at who is offering what in the community and try not to over saturate. But some people come to use with great ideas.”
Programming also includes special events such as the Halloween PeeWee Monster Bash, a Father Daughter Snowflake Ball in December, a Boxcar Drive-In program in the spring and a Mother’s Day Tea.
In the summer, the catalog explodes with camps and specialty programs, both at the North Kirkland Community Center and at other locations.
“We are here to enhance the quality of life for the citizens of Kirkland,” said Recreation Manager Linda Murphy, who came to the city in 1996. “We provide programs to infants through seniors and try to meet the interests of everybody. We are constantly monitoring trends and the interests of citizens because that’s what we’re here for.”
Programs are offered at affordable rates, which pay for direct costs as well indirect costs, such as staff, building, power and utilities, supplemented by general tax dollars.
“I think the community center has fit in well to the community and the neighborhood,” said Cogle. “It’s been a good neighbor out there and a real added value to the community.”
has been working since September to review the entire , including parks, ball fields, recreation facilities and funding gaps. The group will be presenting recommendations to the city council in February, and they could include one to expand the connunity center concept.
For now, though, the hustle and bustle at the North Kirkland Community Center continues. Young ballerinas float in and out, adults in workout gear rush to and from classes, couples drop in after work for ballroom dancing, and hundreds of others come and go each week for meetings, classes, special events and functions.
For more information about programs at the North Kirkland Community Center or to register for winter classes, go to www.kirklandparks.net.