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Future Reggie Lewis Center management disputed

Jule Pattison-Gordon
Future Reggie Lewis Center management disputed
Valerie Roberson, Roxbury Community College president, said the center would be best served by remaining under RCC management.

Debate swirls over the future of the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center. Legislation proposed by Rep. Russell Holmes and Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry would move the state facility out of Roxbury Community College oversight and into the hands of a to-be-established independent board of directors. Coaches, Roxbury community members, elected officials and others weighed in at a State House hearing last Thursday.

Those supporting the bill envision a board including community members, as well as potential representation from RCC and the Boston Public Schools. A memorandum of agreement could be established that guarantees RCC use of the center for important events, several people testified.

Keith McDermott, former director of the Reggie Lewis Center, said putting the facility under an independent board would help preserve its mission.

Scheduling and ownership

A common theme emerging from the testimony was dissatisfaction with the current administration of the Reggie Lewis Center, following the controversial 2016 dismissal of long-time director Keith McDermott. Francine Johnson, representing the Sensational Seniors exercise group, said McDermott’s removal seemed to be part of an RCC bid to seize greater control of the center. Many said they felt the RCC administration was too domineering and showed bias in awarding space to its own events. Members of the Massachusetts State Track Coaches Association (MSTCA) listed a slew of grievances against the interim director who took over from McDermott, including diminished communication and event scheduling overlaps and omissions.

Advocating for the bill, Rep. Holmes said that independent management would ensure that all constituents have equal voice and ability to share in a state asset, without undue favor being granted to RCC leadership’s wants.

McDermott underscored the importance of upholding the center’s mission by prioritizing its use for track, RCC programs and community programs. He supported the bill, saying that use of an independent board is not unusual and would eliminate any conflicts of interest.

“I love Roxbury Community College, but at the same time we need to preserve the mission of the facility,” McDermott said. He added that he does not want his job back.

Those who want to keep the Reggie Lewis Center with RCC include the college president, Valerie Roberson, who said a split would create confusion and undermine the authority of RCC’s board of trustees. She said that without RCC to regulate the center, constituent demands on the space would overlap — something that MSTCA members say already is occurring now.

Donna Harris-Lewis, Reggie Lewis’ widow, also opposed the bill, saying that remedying the alleged current administrative disorder does not require such a drastic fix as overhauling the management structure.

“You’re reinventing the wheel,” Harris-Lewis said, insisting that better communication could be enough to solve the current problems.

Sadiki Kambon, facilitator of Friends of Roxbury Community College, also argued against the bill. Kambon said he finds RCC’s administration problematic but fears that a management structure upheaval could allow other forces to take control and remove the center from the community.

Financial health

Roberson argued that the RCC administration has worked diligently to support the Reggie Lewis Center. One example, she said, is that for several years, the college has picked up cost overruns to the tune of about $200,000 a year.

But Frank Mooney, MSTCA executive director, and McDermott, former Reggie Lewis Center director, said they had never heard of such a deficit occurring, and Mooney said that if it is the case, then the center needs better leadership. Others added that splitting away center management would spare RCC that expense. Kent Taylor of the MSTCA charged the RCC’s struggles with its own finances speak poorly of its ability to improve the Reggie Lewis Center’s finances. Cross-country track and field coach Michael Miller said detaching the center from RCC’s image would improve its ability to attract funders.

Community discussion

Rep. Chynah Tyler opposed the bill, saying it was premature and that there had not been community discussion on it. She also said the situation was too complex for the bill to resolve.

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