By Emory Bryan, The News On 6

TULSA, OK -- The Tulsa Parks Department is considering demolishing buildings and selling park land to cut expenses and generate income, with the goal of providing better support for a smaller parks system.

The demolitions would eliminate the need for expensive renovations of several recreation centers, one of which has been estimated at $1.9 million.

Tulsa Parks Director Lucy Dolman said the continuing cuts to the department had left the city with few choices.

"We have a system we can't afford to maintain" said Dolman.

Several city councilors urged Dolman to wait before proceeding with any final decisions and mothball rather than eliminate the recreation centers.

"Things will get better. If a rec center goes away, it's not coming back," said city councilor Maria Barnes.

Dolman told councilors the parks annual budget had been cut from $20 million annually in 2001 to $9.5 million this year.

The city of Tulsa parks department had 556 employees in 2002, and is down to 201 employees now, according to Dolman.

Despite the budget and personnel cuts, the department has the same physical assets, though many have been closed over the years.

Dolman compared Tulsa to Little Rock, which spend $11 million annually on parks, without supporting the zoo from parks department funds.

Dolman said $5.1 million of her budget goes directly to the Tulsa Zoo.

Councilors were told Little Rock has 5 recreation centers and 3 city pools, while Tulsa has 21 centers and 21 pools.

The possibility of demolishing and selling parks department property was a surprise to several councilors, but Dolman said it is possible depending on whether the land and rec centers were purchased by or donated to the city.

"We will always have parks systems and parks. It's just trying to take care of them with such limited assets right now, it's just not possible," said Bob Hendrick, Tulsa Parks and Rec.

Hendrick says leveling community centers would be a last resort, but one that could make the properties more appealing to potential buyers.

"It just kind of gives people greenery to play with instead of an old building growing and getting dusty," said Hendrick.

Officials say plans could involve opening several community "super centers" that would be larger, but cheaper to operate.

Dolman said no decisions had been made, and councilors urged her to take more time on the decisions, and to keep them informed.