Park Problems: Another Audit Warns of Dangers to Kids (UPDATE)
About a month after the Voice reported that the Parks Department was slow to fix dodgy conditions in some playgrounds, yet another Comptroller John Liu report puts to question the handling of money and health regulations.
The specific site is Brooklyn's Paerdegat Athletic Club, now run by Fitmar Managment.
Some three years ago, the Comptroller's office found that the club was rife with problems -- but the most recent analysis suggests that little has been done to fix these financial and sanitary flubs.
First, let's look at the potential health problems.
"The 2009 audit, among 'unsafe and unsanitary conditions,' found mushrooms growing out from under the indoor track at the Athletic Club."
You might say that mushrooms don't sound all that bad. But, there's a lot more going on that does sound all that bad.
"More recently, the Department of Health found 'evidence of mice or live mice present in the facility's food and/or non-food areas' during inspections in July and August 2011."
Also present was dilapidated equipment, just like at those problematic NYC parks: "During site visits, auditors observed exposed metal edges in a children's play area, torn gymnastic mats, and filthy carpeting."
The real kicker? "For its licensed children's programs, Fitmar also did not conduct background checks on all its employees as required by state law."
Fitmar fumbled with basic financials too:
"Since 2009 the Parks Department continued to accept questionable financial records from its concessionaire, which underreported its gross receipts for 2011 by at least $123,369. Fitmar and the Parks Department also failed to take any action on a 2009 recommendation that the company estimate how much revenue was lost to the City from employee theft. In addition, as of February 10, 2012, the company owes the City $177,736 in unpaid license fees and late charges.
The company did not record or report to the Parks Department revenue from special events. Fitmar could not provide auditors with contracts for all its special events, and stated that special events were not held at the Athletic Club, despite hosting three dance parties there between July and September 2011."
Fitmar has a 20-year agreement to run the facility and two snack bars. But the Comptroller has asked Parks to sever ties with Fitmar, and it looks like the department will comply.
The Voice reached out to Parks and Rec and Fitmar for comment. We'll update if we hear back.
UPDATE: Parks reached out to the Voice. A spokesman had this to say:
"We completely disagree with the Comptroller's characterization of Parks' oversight of this concession. For the past few years, the Parks Department has made a concerted effort to increase Fitmar Management's compliance with their license agreement to operate the Paerdegat Athletic Club. Parks has rigorously inspected the facility and audited its finances -- the Comptroller's report acknowledges these facts. While this report cites Parks for a lack of enforcement, it does not name one enforcement action the agency did not take, other than terminating the license agreement of a concession that is used and enjoyed by thousands of New Yorkers who take advantage of afterschool programs, child care programs, summer camps, swimming, soccer, basketball, fitness, and more.
Despite our efforts, we recognize the difficulties that Fitmar has experienced in complying with their license agreement and we are exploring methods of dramatically changing the management and organizational structure of the Paerdegat Athletic Club. We are looking for new management that will invest additional capital improvements into the facility. We are requiring that Fitmar pay the $177,736 they owe in outstanding license fees, as endorsed by the Comptroller's Report. Parks is also considering the solicitation of new vendors through the RFP process...
Fitmar Management has run the Paerdegat Athletic Club for over 25 years. Jurisdiction was transferred from DCAS to Parks in 2004.
In December 2004, pursuant to a Request for Proposals, Parks signed a 20-year license agreement with Fitmar Management to operate and maintain the club. They were the only proposer at that time.
Fitmar, through its daycare, afterschool, and summer camp programs and fitness facilities, serves a large number of children and adults in the Canarsie, Brooklyn community. The Club is an extremely large facility (over 100,000 square feet) and includes an indoor soccer field, tennis court, basketball court, gymnastics area, running track, weight room, cardio room, snack bar, indoor swimming pool and outdoor pools.
During the past several years, Parks has provided significant oversight of this concession by issuing 25 notices for failure to pay license fees, capital commitment shortfalls, or facility conditions in need of correction. We performed internal reviews of their compliance, held meetings with their principals, and conducted 14 facility and capital inspections.
We believe that this facility has been maintained in an overall safe and sanitary manner. We last inspected it in January 2012, and no hazardous conditions or safety concerns were identified. Their snack bar is properly permitted by the Health Department and has received a B grade. Their childcare programs are properly permitted and inspected as required by the Health Department. The Fire Department has licensed the Club as a Place of Public Assembly.
However, Fitmar owes the City an outstanding balance of $177,736 in license fees. We intend to collect this amount. Parks is also committed to changing the center's management while ensuring that the management invests additional capital into the facility."
The Comptroller's office has since replied to Park's response. A spokesman told us: "The audit speaks for itself, as does the Parks Department's decision to seek a new vendor as the audit recommended."
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