Several hundred bridge players in Richland are trying to force the hand of city hall to relax rules for using the community center in Howard Amon Park.
About 100 of the loyal card players jammed council chambers Tuesday to show their solidarity and callfor a public workshop.
"There's an ongoing long-term series of aggressive practices that are driving people away from the community center," said Joe Diven, vice president of the Tri-Cities Unit 442 of the American Contract Bridge League.
Diven presented a letter to the council saying the policies and treatment by staff at the center has caused bridge players to wonder if a change in management isn't needed.
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Diven told the Herald that there has been evidence of under-utilization of the center by the public, an apparent indifference and hostility to users, and unnecessary and limiting restrictions on activities.
Diven said it seems wrong to limit bridge activity only to the designated card room, when there are other rooms vacant and apparently available.
And he protests the inflexibility on hours of access for the public facility.
But Phil Pinard, interim director of the city's Parks and Recreation Department, said the bridge players and other groups who expressed their discontent don't understand the reasons behind the strict rules.
"We are a community center with set hours and we can't negotiate the use of the building. Staff are assigned and we cannot exceed those hours," he said.
The community center was opened 10 years ago, designed to serve a variety of activities, from dance and aerobics, to a computer classroom, arts and crafts, a card room and open space areas.
Pinard said it's a very different facility from the previous senior center that was behind city hall.
"They had keys and could come and go, with little supervision. It was pretty much free rein," Pinard said of the senior center, which was leveled to make room for the police department's parking lot.
"Now we have risk management and security issues," he said.
Pinard agreed there are times when the community center appears to be under-utilized, but those are infrequent.
Larry Lang disagreed.
"Where are all the people?" Lang asked, noting that community center management refuses to let bridge players use rooms that are vacant, insisting that all card playing must be done in the card room.
Laurel Strand, the city's interim facility and resource manager, said the misunderstanding involves programmed activity, such as bridge playing in the card room, which requires a fee paid by individuals to the community center, versus a room rental, where the renter controls the activity and the participants, and is responsible for set-up, take-down and cleanup.
Strand said the bridge players can rent a room, if it is available and not booked, but the community center staff will not allow a programmed activity to occur in a room that is not designated for it.
Pinard said the distinction can be confusing.
"We have to find a way to resolve the old way and the new way. We are aware of their concerns and we are trying to resolve them," he said.
But Susan Dunn of Richland, who is a member of the Bechtel Women's Group, said her experiences with the community center several years ago confirm what the bridge players are saying.
Dunn said management practices became unaccommodating, which is why the women's group stopped holding its fundraisers at the center five years ago.
She said her group and others, including a genealogical society, bingo, pinochle and bunco groups, simply quit using the center because of the user-unfriendly policies and practices.
"A lot of groups chose to fade out, but the bridge group chose to speak out," Dunn said.
Tom Edwards, manager of the Richland Duplicate Bridge Club, said the way the Richland Community Center is run has made it "a place for the people who work here."
Pinard said City Manager Cindy Johnson personally has taken on the issue and promised to get back to Diven and the bridge players within a couple of weeks.
-- John Trumbo: 582-1529; email@example.com