‘Improve it, don’t move it’: Silent protestors seek to keep Marshall White Center in neighborhood
Deborah Wilber, Standard-Examiner
OGDEN — “Make the right decision, not the white decision,” Daniel Mathews said while speaking during the public comment portion of Tuesday’s Ogden City Council meeting.
Resident after resident took to the podium Tuesday night expressing their frustration with the city for neglecting to maintain the Marshall White Center and subsequently suggesting it would be better utilized in a different part of town. Those using the center say it’s not an interest issue, it’s an infrastructure issue impacting usability.
The MWC has been a fixture of the Jefferson neighborhood for 50 years, providing the inner city with quality, low-cost recreation programs.
In a messaging document drafted by supporters of the MWC, they claim historic neglect of the recreation center. Programs offered have declined over the years, the pool has been closed since 2018 with no timeline for reopening and the weight training room has remained locked since early 2020.
“COVID-19 gave them a wonderful excuse to close the weight room,” Taylor Knuth-Bishop said, taking a swipe at Mayor Mike Caldwell and Chief Administrative Officer Mark Johnson.
Deborah Wilber, Standard-Examiner
Knuth-Bishop said Caldwell and his administration have made a conscious decision to disinvest in the MWC over the last 10 years, creating circumstances that led to public safety hazards, such as the facility’s deteriorating roof.
With the MWC in need of repairs, the City Council sought the opportunity to improve and expand upon its uses to meet the needs of the community. Councilwoman Marcia White has suggested adding a day care and a kitchen.
“We could have something so cool,” White said.
A report composed by city administrative staff and the Marshall White Advisory Committee on recommendations and conceptual drawings for the MWC did not meet the City Council’s expectations or direction, according to a letter from the council to the mayor, Public Services staff and the Marshall White committee.
According to White, there was a communication breakdown between the legislative body, which approves any funding, and the administration, which decides structure details, programs and location.
Before making any final decisions, the City Council has indicated it wants to explore all possibilities so as to provide the greatest impact. White is hopeful that with more data collected by community surveys, the council will receive more results for additional potential services to be offered.
Steven Bell, associate professor of occupational and recreational therapies at the University of Utah, believes Ogden needs a state-of-the-art recreation center. Additionally, Bell says, the Jefferson neighborhood needs attention — a lot of attention.
Knuth-Bishop said it’s shameful for a city of Ogden’s size not to offer quality public infrastructure and programming when cities a fraction of the size, such as Roy and Clearfield, have modern public rec centers.
According to Knuth-Bishop, the city administration would like to invest in a YMCA facility on Madison Avenue and 25th Street and keep the MWC in the Jefferson neighborhood as a cultural facility. “That’s sounds like reinvention of segregation to me,” he said. In 2017, Caldwell, council members and Ogden City staff traveled to Boise to conduct site visits of local YMCA facilities.
Over 1,000 surveys were completed in the spring of 2021. The results showed the community wants a recreation center. City Council members are now requesting a second survey be completed by city residents, as the initial survey focused primarily on recreational amenities.
Neighborhoods directly adjacent to the MWC are predominately inhabited by Black and Latino residents. Community residents feel if the center were to move or change into a cultural center, much of them would lose their ability to access, use and engage in the amenities and programs offered.
“There is no other building in the state of Utah that is named after a Black man,” said Onita White, Marshall White’s daughter. White, who’s home was demolished to build the MWC, says even if the city does not care anymore, the community still does.