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Community weighs in on fate of deteriorating Marshall White Center

By Deborah Wilber - | Dec 8, 2021

Deborah Wilber, Standard-Examiner

Ogden NAACP President Betty Sawyer engages members of the community participating in moderated conversation with panelists about the Marshall White Community Center on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021.

OGDEN — Ultimately, it will be members of the community who will decide what happens to the Marshall White Center, Utah Rep. Rosemary Lesser said during a community conversation Saturday night in the facility’s gymnasium.

Marshall White activists and members of the community posed their questions to a panel of city representatives in hopes of coming to a mutual understanding about wants, needs and the financing to make them happen.

Leah Murray, deputy director of Weber State University’s Olene S. Walker Institute of Politics & Public Service, directed the 60-minute discussion, saying no one would leave until all questions got answered.

Ogden Diversity Commission Chair Jeremy Shinoda said commission members have gone door to door speaking with people in the community. The common theme expressed by residents, he said, is frustration with the lack of progress by the city in fixing the community center’s problems.

“The pool has been unusable since 2017,” he said. “It’s obviously not 2017 anymore.”

Deborah Wilber, Standard-Examiner

An Ogden resident asks panelists a question during a moderated conversation Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021, at the Marshall White Center.

Ogden City Chief Administrative Officer Mark Johnson explained the different funding options possible. Requiring a vote by the people, a general obligation bond would raise property taxes for all citizens, he said. A revenue bond, however, would be secured by city collateral and the city would need to find a source to repay it.

Lesser said she would prefer to use bonds as little as possible and instead look more aggressively at grants. Federal and state grants are essentially free money, with no requirements of repayment, she said. But while Johnson acknowledged the possibility of qualifying for such grants, he is uncertain as to how much they might cover.

With a new facility estimated to cost around $30 million and only $1 million allocated to the project thus far, the city has looked at potentially partnering with recreational organizations such as the YMCA.

Members of the audience, however, raised concerns over partnering with the YMCA, mentioning the city’s previous arrangement with the Ogden Weber Community Action Partnership.

The city held a contract with OWCAP to manage the MWC on its behalf from 2009 to 2016 before a mutual termination was made, according to Johnson.

Deborah Wilber, Standard-Examiner

Members of the community engage in a moderated conversation Saturday night, Dec. 4, 2021, to discuss the future of the Marshall White Center, located at 222 28th St. in Ogden. Panelists, from left to right, were Ogden Diversity Commission Chair Jeremy Shinoda, Ogden City Chief Administrative Officer Mark Johnson, Utah Rep. Rosemary Lesser, Ogden City Councilwoman Angela Choberka and Marshall White Center Advisory Board Chair Sean Bishop.

The reason for the termination was not provided.

According to Johnson, city attorneys and accountants are now looking at American Rescue Plan Act funds but might not be able to use them.

“I don’t think people understand we have different pots of money we have to use for certain things,” Johnson said in response to a question about other funds being invested in the Ogden-Hinckley Airport and local golf courses.

Ogden resident Paul Klema said he believes the MWC was getting along fine when OWCAP was running it. He said when the city took it back over, it “went to pot.”

Gerad “Butch” Sawyer, MWC director from 1998 to 2009, said he applied for capital replacement funds to fix the pool long before it became unusable in 2017. He described the city’s attitude toward the MWC as it being “out of sight, out of mind.”

Deborah Wilber, Standard-Examiner

Members of the community engage in a moderated conversation Saturday night, Dec. 4, 2021, to discuss the future of the Marshall White Center in Ogden.

Johnson said the city has known about the center’s problems for some time, but explained that there are problems all over Ogden and the city is struggling financially to address them all. There have been renovations done here and there, he said, with the bulk of allocated funds going to operational costs, such as staff payroll.

Ogden City Councilman Luis Lopez said he believes the only thing standing in the way of progress is a failure in prioritization. “There’s a lack in leadership,” he said.

Councilwoman Marcia White shared in the sentiment with a statement directed at the administration, telling them the council is ready for them to step up.

As for the next steps in the process, the city must complete the council’s request for more information on potential services to be incorporated into the new Marshall White Center. The City Council wants to explore all possibilities so as to have the greatest impact for the legacy project.

Betty Sawyer, president of the Ogden NAACP, expressed disappointment with what she called “lip service” to the issue by city officials. Following the 60-minute question-and-answer session, Sawyer took to the front of the stage, mic in hand, and led the audience in chanting, “Do right by Marshall White.”

Deborah Wilber, Standard-Examiner

Members of the community engage in a moderated conversation Saturday night, Dec. 4, 2021, to discuss the future of the Marshall White Center in Ogden.

Sawyer said she’s disappointed by investments happening all over Ogden, with no strides being made to improve the Jefferson community where the Marshall White Center is located.

“We’re not asking to invest in us,” she said. “We’re asking you to do what you have been elected to do for us with our tax dollars.”

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