By Jessica Miller
When my husband and I moved to Middleburg seven years ago, we were choosing an idyllic small-town life to grow our family, one that is increasingly rare. We were drawn to the town as one of those last bastions of community living that Norman Rockwell idealized in his images, with places like the Middleburg Community Center to offer programs and services that bring together town residents and the surrounding community. Now that we are parents of a four year old son, the opportunity to have access to a public playground and swimming pool within the town limits is priceless. Imagine, then, the disappointment of our young child when he arrived for an afternoon swim on a perfect sunny Saturday, only to be informed that the pool has closed due to a private event at the Community Center. Sadly, these closures have been a regular occurrence, happening the past three weeks out of the five that the MCC pool has been open in 2019 with one additional weekend closure due to a plumbing issue.
Frustrated as a $300 family season pass holder to the MCC pool who received absolutely no warning of these closures, I wanted answers and found the following statement on the MCC website:
The Middleburg Community Center is unique in that it is a true community center. Supported by the community, for the community, the citizens of Middleburg have assured that the Community Center remains a pristine public space for all ever since our doors opened in 1949. Come and enjoy the picnic grounds, garden, playgrounds, pool and other outdoor spaces.
I must question how the community is truly served as many of these public spaces are restricted when the MCC is rented for a private event, thus closing the door on the community to connect and enjoy the facility. In fact, it is clear from the annual reports posted on the MCC website that the desire of MCC management and board leadership is to seek out funding from providing event space, including weddings. Given wedding season is in full bloom during the summer months, this places the MCC open pool hours at risk every weekend.
Additionally, the MCC management has not maintained a pristine environment as stated. The pool has been in need of improvements for several years as pieces of the structure are cracking and breaking off not to mention the dire condition of the pool restrooms. Furthermore, the MCC pool offers no ability for the elderly or mobility challenged to utilize the facility as the pool is not equipped with walk-in steps. In fact, the Town of Middleburg offered to help fund the addition of these steps and other improvements to the pool for the benefit of the community, but the MCC took no action on this offer.
It is understandable that the MCC needs to raise funds either as donations or through its programs and events. In challenging times donations dry up and established institutions like the MCC need to innovate and adapt their approach to stay alive. There are different ways to balance the need to remain solvent while staying true to your core mission, if that is truly what the MCC desires.
Of the assorted events listed on their website, five of the nine are annual, one-time events and one is not even managed by the MCC but by the Middleburg Police Department. So what does it mean to serve the community? The MCC only needs to look into their past to answer that question. The MCC website references memories of duck pin bowling in the basement dating back to the 1960s. What an entertaining way to engage the community and bring people together! Summer is a season that leaves many parents stressed as they look for activities to occupy their school-aged children. Why doesn’t the MCC offer day camps for children? Why haven’t they replaced the Pre-School program that was run by the Loudoun County Parks, Recreation & Community Service that left in 2017? These are all opportunities to generate revenue while benefiting the community and not relying on private parties which benefit only the MCC bottom line.
With no focus on improving the pool and developing programs that can act as sustainable revenue streams that support the Middleburg community, what is keeping the management of the MCC so busy all year? As a designated non-profit the MCC’s focus on pursuing private events may even be in violation of their tax exempt status. It all begs the question, what is the true mission of the Middleburg Community Center?