As Queen Creek's population expands and diversifies, town officials have found that recreational offerings and facilities must do the same.
That finding is part of results released from a town recreation needs assessment conducted by Kansas-based ETC Institute. Part of the assessment included a survey sent to 2,000 town residents. More than 500 responses were returned, exceeding the town's initial goal of 400.
Among the top findings was that rapid growth in Queen Creek over the past several years has resulted in "high unmet needs for a wide range of parks, trails and recreation facilities."
Now Queen Creek residents seek more recreation opportunities, and the survey zeroed in on a need for more youth sports and adult health and wellness classes.
"Because the town's demographics have changed so dramatically, there is a large section of the community where we aren't addressing their needs," said Queen Creek resident Tom Alberti, who serves as chairman of the town's Recreation Advisory Board. "We need to reach out to these people now that we understand what their needs are."
He said the $20,000 the assessment cost the town was money well spent because now the Parks and Recreation Department knows where to focus its attention.
The survey responses show that town residents want more recreation programs and facilities, but most don't participate in what is available because they don't know what's offered or they don't have time. That's because in rapidly growing situations, it often takes residents about two years to figure out where information comes from and what recreation opportunities are available, said ETC officials.
"We need to figure out a way to better capture those residents faster than the two-year time frame the consultant is used to," said Creighton Wright, the town's assistant director for parks and recreation. "It's something we're working on."
The Parks and Recreation Department is working to better communicate with its residents through an updated Web site and the town's monthly newsletter, Wright said.
"The biggest impact we've noticed is that people are moving from larger established cities and towns to Queen Creek, where we just haven't had the facilities," he said. "We don't have the financial capacity right now to put those kinds of facilities in place."
But the town does have plans and future funding mechanisms in place to help meet the needs expressed in the survey, Wright said.
"It's one of those things we have to deal with as our population has grown faster than the recreational resources we can put in place," he said. "The consultant said this situation is not uncommon - where the needs outpace the facilities available."
The survey showed about 25 percent of respondents participate in recreation programs offered by the town. That number is less than the national benchmark of 30 percent participation, leaving an opportunity for growth of programs, town officials said. Survey results also showed that residents support more youth sports, adult fitness and wellness and youth learn-to-swim programs.
Results also showed a demand for certain facilities, including an aquatics center, senior center and equestrian facilities. Residents said they supported paying for the most in-demand programs and facilities with tax dollars.
"We do a pretty good job based on meeting the youth component, but over the next couple of years we're looking into moving into the adult component," Wright said.
Queen Creek's biggest challenge is not having indoor space.
The town's under-construction library will be overbuilt to provide 20,000 square feet of space for the Parks and Recreation Department until the library needs to expand.
The Library Recreation Annex will have six classrooms and two multipurpose rooms, quadrupling the amount of space the department has for indoor recreation programs. Alberti said the town is already advertising for instructors to teach classes in the annex.
"Once we get the Library Recreation Annex going, we'll start meeting the largest unserved need," Wright said.
But while working on those needs, town residents said Queen Creek is doing a great job on the programs it already has in place - the survey showed that 85 percent of current participants rate offerings as "good" or "excellent."
"We may be serving a small market in Queen Creek, but what we do serve, we're serving very, very well," Wright said. "That is our focus as we grow - to ensure we're maintaining the quality because that seems to be what the citizens really appreciate."