OGDEN -- Two years ago, Ogden residents Ariel Latham and Linda Waldrum stood shoulder-to-shoulder with other senior citizens protesting what they feared was the city's impending closure of the Marshall White Community Center and its indoor pool.
However, last week the pair praised the facility's dramatic transformation under the management of the Ogden-Weber Community Action Partnership, a local nonprofit organization.
"Everything they have done down here has been a blessing," said Latham, 68. "Everything has been an improvement."
Waldrum agreed. "It's a total turnaround," she said.
Monthly participation at the Marshall White Center, 222 28th St., has grown from several hundred to about 3,000 people a month since OWCAP took over in 2009.
"It's clean, appropriate and colorful," Donald Carpenter, agency administrator for OWCAP, said, explaining changes at the center. "People utilize it now."
Under the management agreement, the city reimburses OWCAP up to $30,000 a month for expenses to operate the center.
During any quarter in which expenses are less than $90,000, the total savings are split evenly between the city and OWCAP, according to the agreement.
OWCAP and the city's share of savings so far, each totaling about $40,000, have been obtained through cost-cutting measures, such as improved maintenance of the pool and water conservation efforts, said Tyrone Aranda, the center's director.
OWCAP has used proceeds to buy kayaks, athletic equipment, bicycles, helmets and a spring board floor for gymnastics, tumbling and cheerleading.
Ogden Chief Administrative Officer John Patterson praised OWCAP's management of the center since taking over from the city.
"There are twice the programs, four times the participants and they have created more play areas," Patterson said.
Initially, OWCAP had considered closing the pool to make more room for its Head Start program that serves low- and moderate-income children, ages 3 to 5, at the center, Carpenter said.
However, Carpenter decided the pool had to remain open to keep the center intact. "It was a great decision," he said.
OWCAP has made several improvements to the pool, including the installation of new lights and diving platforms, and will soon put in decking that resembles a sandy beach. A youth swim club and an aquatic Zumba aerobics class also have been established.
OWCAP received a $2,000 Weber County RAMP grant earlier this year to purchase equipment and uniforms and fund city league fees for basketball, flag football and baseball teams for the Marshall White Center.
A $75,000 RAMP grant is also being to used to build an indoor-outdoor restroom on the east side of the center.
Also last year, a $38,300 Weber County RAMP grant and a $10,000 contribution from Sport Court West in Salt Lake City funded the resurfacing of the center's outdoor basketball and tennis courts.
Drew Wilson, a 13-year-old Ogden resident who regularly visits the center, said he likes the improvements. "This place is the bomb," he said. "I come here every day."
The improvements have been crucial to the center's recent success, Aranda said.
"It lets the community know that Marshall White is still here, and it's alive," he said. "The center is starting to reap the benefits of the reinvestment."