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John Chamness

MONDAY, AUG. 24, 2009

Maj. John Chamness is the executive director of the Salvation Army Kroc Corps Community Center in Coeur d’Alene. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
Maj. John Chamness is the executive director of the Salvation Army Kroc Corps Community Center in Coeur d’Alene. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

Kroc Community Center director talks about facility’s instant success

When Coeur d’Alene’s Salvation Army Kroc Corps Community Center opened three months ago, organizers projected that 1,500 people would join the first year, with about 670 of them using the center daily.  ■  They were wrong. Some 15,500 people have become members of the community center, with up to 2,000 people using its pools, child care, fitness machines and community rooms every day. Executive Director Maj. John Chamness of the Salvation Army attributed the enormous enrollment to pent-up demand for a community center.

Q. What are the main things that have surprised you about the feedback from the community since this opened?

A. For me the biggest surprise was how many people signed up. We just did not anticipate that. It just kept going and going. Every day there would be lines of people standing there waiting an hour sometimes to sign up.

Q. What sort of logistical impact has the increased membership caused?

A. The big impact was the staff. We went from approximately 65 or 70 staff the day we opened to now, 172. We quickly had to hire a lot of lifeguards. And one of the challenges with that is there weren’t a lot of lifeguards here in North Idaho because there isn’t a public swimming pool. What we found is we had to train quite a few people as lifeguards. We’ve started a new program called the Junior Lifeguarding Program where … we’re training teenagers, 13- and 14-year-olds, on how to be lifeguards so that when they become of age, we can hire them.

Q. Were there other staff or building impacts?

A. Everything from fitness to maintenance to food service to our child-watch area. We were overwhelmed in our child-watch area. You can drop your kids off for two hours; it’s ages 3 months to 6 years old. We had to come up with an alternative program for the slightly older kids. So we started a new program called 7 to 11. They meet down in one of the community rooms and it’s staffed specifically for older kids.

Q. So because of the massive enrollment boom, you are employing almost three times as many people as you anticipated.

A. Typically, you move into a building, you have a couple of weeks or maybe a month to kind of get used to a building and work it out. We didn’t have that chance. We opened on May 11 and people were here, and it hasn’t stopped.

Q. Would you say your staff was prepared for it?

A. I think so. We did a job fair down at Riverstone, a two-day job fair, when we were approaching our opening. We had over 1,200 people come in for interviews. That offered us the opportunity to really find the best of the best. While it was overwhelming at times, and while it created tension and long hours, the staff that we have here responded so well to it. They were out at that front desk for long hours, working lots of overtime. I think they saw the value of what we’re doing. They want to be part of creating a great legacy for our community.

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