Morgan Hill Invests in Recreation and Turns a Profit

The City of Morgan Hill won an Award for Excellence in the Community Services and Economic Development category of the 2008 Helen Putnam Award for Excellence program. For more information about the program, visit

In the early 1990s, the City of Morgan Hill eliminated its recreation services as a result of severe budget cuts. Afterward, the city relied on the local YMCA, athletic associations and other service providers to offer recreation programs. Residents soon realized that the community’s quality of life was significantly impacted by cutting the city’s recreation services. A grassroots effort to not only restore but also enhance municipal recreation services was born.

A community visioning process began in 1996 as the precursor to the city’s existing Parks, Facilities and Recreation Programming Master Plan. Subsequently, Morgan Hill residents voted to extend the life of the local redevelopment agency, which identified funding of community recreation facilities as a priority.

Creative Thinking Helps Reduce Costs

With a renewed focus on recreation, the city had an opportunity to expand services by investing in public facilities and partnering with other service providers. However, funds were still limited. When planning for the Centennial Recreation Center (CRC) began, the city leaders sought creative solutions to help reduce operating expenses.

The CRC design grew out of a participatory process that reflected the community’s priorities and needs. In June 2003, a subcommittee consisting of representatives from many community stakeholders was formed to serve in an advisory capacity to the city council. Working together, the group endeavored to ensure that the new recreation center would meet the needs of its many users and that staff would have the tools and facilities necessary to serve the community.

Green building elements were incorporated into the site and building design. The project used local building materials, efficient mechanical systems and environmentally sensitive landscaping. The building design has a north-south orientation that maximizes daylight in the space and utilizes heat gain in the winter months to reduce energy consumption, providing significant lifetime cost savings.

Project Pays Social and Financial Dividends

Morgan Hill celebrated the opening of the $27.6 million center in October 2006. Totaling 52,000 square feet, the facility was built to promote multigenerational interaction and advance the physical well-being of the community. The CRC’s large lobby is a central meeting area for visitors and provides a natural transition between the center’s active recreation spaces (an indoor water park, gymnasium, aerobics room, fitness center, Kids Zone and children’s party room) and community spaces (a senior center, teen center, computer lab and multipurpose room with a commercial-grade kitchen).

The pool, with its giant water slide and spray features, serves as the focal point of the design both inside and out. Because the CRC is adjacent to Morgan Hill’s largest park, the design team linked the site with bicycle and walking trails, a creek and a future skate park.

The CRC is operated by a unique partnership between the city and the YMCA of Santa Clara Valley. The parties cooperatively manage and operate the facility as a first-class recreation center for the public’s benefit. The partnership resulted from the city’s desire to take advantage of the YMCA’s experience in offering membership-based health and fitness services while ensuring that city staff remains responsible to the city council and residents.

The CRC offers the community numerous opportunities to participate in recreation activities that improve health, foster youth development, promote multigenerational interaction, encourage active lifestyles, strengthen public safety, support economic development and promote environmental stewardship.

The Morgan Hill community has enthusiastically embraced the facility and all that it has to offer. The CRC currently has 9,500 community members with more than 750,000 visits recorded for fitness classes, swim lessons, open gym activities, health and wellness fairs, senior nutrition, teen events, sports camps, and a “Get Fit” celebration, among others.

As officials from other communities visit the center, they learn that investing in a community’s quality of life and partnering with other service providers pays both financial and social dividends. As a result of higher than anticipated membership sales, the CRC had a net operating profit at the end of fiscal year 2007-08.

The recreation center has helped solidify the important role that parks, recreation and community services play in the Morgan Hill community. The facility has been a catalyst for improving people’s lives. It demonstrates how community facilities represent the spirit of a city by providing recreational, social and developmental programs for residents of all ages.

Contact: Steve Rymer, director of recreation and community services, City of Morgan Hill; phone: (408) 779-7271; e-mail:

This article appears in the May 2009 issue of Western City
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