Park and Rec’s Software Conundrum

August 1, 2016, Department, by Jean Thilmany

Elizabeth City-Pasquotank County Parks and Recreation's approach to shopping for reservation software.Shopping for reservation management software can be overwhelming. Asking park and recreation directors for feedback and keeping some basic tips in mind has helped one director streamline the decision-making process.

Today, residents of Elizabeth City, North Carolina, register for park and recreation programs either in-person at the local recreation center or through the mail, says Bobbi White, director of the Elizabeth City-Pasquotank County Parks and Recreation Department. They use the same in-person or by-mail method to reserve park space and buildings.

“We don’t have any type of software that can be used to take reservations over the internet,” she says. “And we don’t take credit cards.

“In fact, we’re lucky to have the internet in our area at all,” she jokes.

But, residents may not have to post an envelope or come down to the recreation center to register for much longer. If the Elizabeth City Council approves a proposed appropriation for park and recreation registration software, rollout of the new technology could begin as early as September or October of this year, White says.

Those presently on the table in White’s department are Active Net, PerfectMind, and EZFacility. At the start of her investigation, White encountered challenges when attempting to get a holistic view of each program’s pros and cons. 

“Of course you’ll hear how well they work. But I need to hear the drawbacks too,” White says. 

Active Net, itself a maker of parks and recreation management software, suggests directors keep a few simple things in mind when shopping for software:

 

  • Begin by making a list of required reporting functionalities and other features, such as point-of-sale capabilities. 
  • Ensure the software can grow with the department and includes features the department might use down the line. 
  • Consider the costs of implementation and its attendant hassles. Are those costs included in estimates? 
  • Ask for referrals and feedback from users.

 

Directors should also weigh the costs and benefits of buying the software outright (customer service is usually included) or purchasing a cloud-based system. Usually cloud-based software costs recur monthly. 

Keeping in mind the edict to ask for feedback, White reached out to other park and recreation directors to garner opinions and specifics. White says she found the feedback useful. 

For the past four years, the Dayton, Ohio, Park and Recreation Department has used RecTrac, from Vermont Systems. The software tool was specifically created for the park and recreation industry, says Bobbi Beyer, the department’s recreation facility specialist. 

Dayton relies on its system for class registration, class membership, league management and facility rentals. RecTrac allows staff members to print finance and statistical reports, as well as custom-created reports. Reports can be formatted as graphs, pie charts or in other forms so they can be easily understood, according to a company statement. 

“We generate site-use reports and we use the report feature when applying for grants. We might need to find out how many nonprofit groups use our rental facilities, for example,” Beyer says.

Dayton’s former system didn’t include a point-of-sale feature, which the department needed for concession areas and golf-shop rentals. Bayer says the department’s current software includes touch-screen keyboards and a mouse option.

Meanwhile, Marana Parks and Rec department in Marana, Arizona, moved to Active Net 12 years ago. Six years ago, the department’s business coordinator pushed the agency to make use of all the tool’s capabilities. The department had been manually compiling reports by pulling numbers from various databases and buying ads and placing flyers. The tool’s central reporting features have saved time and money — its social media integration and communication tools cut by $8,500 the annual advertising budget and saved department staff 10 hours per week says Corey Larriva, Marana’s business coordinator.

Back in Elizabeth City, White continues to seek feedback and is keeping buyers’ tips in mind as she organizes her search and weighs implementation of new recreation management software. 

Still, when registration time rolls around in the not-too-distant future, it’s likely the residents served by Elizabeth City Parks and Recreation will no longer need to stamp their envelopes or register in person, she adds. 

 

Jean Thilmany is a St. Paul, Minnesota-based freelance writer.