A Closed sign hangs over South Mountain Environmental Education Center. The center was closed due to budget cuts but the city hopes to restore services soon. Allison Hurtado/AFN

Budget cuts have been a problem for Phoenix parks. But the city is hoping with the help of local non-profit organizations, buildings like the South Mountain Environmental Education Center can once again be open to the public.

The city is about to start its third round of a Request for Proposal (RFP) process, in which it takes proposals solely from non-profit organizations to reopen and use shuttered buildings. The goal is to find non-profits whose mission aligns with the original use of the building so that services that were once offered can be restored to the public.

"We developed this program to seek non-profit organizations and invite them to submit proposals to move into our shuttered facilities," said Ann Wheat, recreation supervisor with Phoenix's Park and Recreation Department. "We had about a dozen facilities that had to be closed due to budget reductions and we've been able to reopen about six of them so far."

The process begins on May 6 when the city releases its RFPs. Information will be given about the facility and the minimum services the city is hoping to restore.

"We want this to be successful," Wheat said. "We want our non-profits to be successful. We try to set reasonable levels that are very achievable to give them time to build their plan."

The non-profits are given steps to follow and about six weeks to submit a proposal. The proposal then goes to an evaluation panel of community members and representatives from the Parks and Recreation Department, who know the area and facility well. The panel submits a recommendation to the Parks and Recreation Board, which ultimately decides which non-profit will be selected.

Services at the North Mountain Visitors Center were restored through this process. The non-profit Save Our Mountains teamed up with Arizona Parks and Recreation Association, Phoenix Mountains Preservation Council, Central Arizona Mountain Rescue Association and Phoenix City Parks and Recreation to take over the building. They've now been able to open it back up to the public and provide information and classes that were at one time lost.

"Collectively it seems to be a really successful model," Wheat said. "They're restoring services, they have the facility open to the public. They reopened the gift shop and have classes about the desert. That's what we're going to try to do as well for South Mountain."

The city will still own the building and just allow the non-profit to work from it. The organization is asked to cover its own expenses like phones, Internet and basic cleaning, and part of the utilities, but major maintenance and rent will be covered by the city.

"The cost for our non-profits has been very reasonable," Wheat said. "For some of them it has been their first real facility-based service delivery. All of this is spelled out for them in the agreement so they have the information before they submit a proposal. We negotiate with them and it's all kept very reasonable for them."

For more information about the RFP process, interested groups can visit the city's website at phoenix.gov/rfp, call (602) 534-1504 or email Ann Wheat at ann.wheat@phoenix.gov.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7914 or ahurtado@ahwatukee.com

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