The Flagler County school district is proposing a plan that would reinvent the Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club either as a hybrid or as a site exclusively used for school purposes. The school board is embracing the hybrid model and seeing the plan as a breakthrough, opening the way to end a prolonged dilemma for the district.
The proposal would move several existing programs–alternative education, education of the disabled, virtual education–to the grounds of the club. That would free up significant space in schools, including nine classrooms at Matanzas High and three at Indian Trails Middle School, where school board members want student spaces used by day-to-day students.
The plan would better use the Belle Terre Swim and Racket Club’s space and acreage at a time when the club has been looking for a purpose more viable than as a break-even–or money-losing–proposition as a fitness center.
The reinvention would not necessarily affect the swimming pool and the gym, but the four tennis courts, which need a $50,000 makeover, are not likely to survive. That space would more likely be used to locate portable classrooms.
“The pool and the gym can be segregated, so that it doesn’t affect or impact the other projects that we are proposing around the perimeter of the pool and the gym,” Paul Peacock, the assistant superintendent in charge of said. “There are multiple options.” Both the district’s swim teams–at Flagler Palm Coast High School and Matanzas High School–use the pool, as do other independent programs.
Peacock said the plan is at the mercy of board members’ wishes. “Dave Freeman and I love to be given orders because we love to follow orders,” Peacock said, referring to his colleague, the director of facilities.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that the board members were ecstatic. “It gives us the options we have been asking for from the start,” Board member Cheryl Massaro said, stressing that the plan still enables the club parts of the facility to survive in one form or another. “I just like the concept.”
“I love the concept. I think it’s a win win for the community, for the school district, it frees up seats,” Board member Colleen Conklin said, also citing its financial viability.
The programs that would be shifted to the site would be the Trail program, iFlagler, Rise-Up and Step-Up, as well as the Youth Center.
The gym could be used as the Youth Center, currently on the campus of Flagler Palm Coast High School. The county, which contributes $25,000 a year toward the Youth Center, is interested in having some services for adults at the Youth Center, which the district is considering (such as computer-skill classes, tax-return help and other such uses).
The district’s iFlagler could also be located there, enabling 18 teachers to work out of there. Currently, iFlagler is at Matanzas High School, using up 10 classrooms, taking up 9,000 square feet. That move would free up 250 student stations at Matanzas, which is slated for an expansion in a few years.
Conklin thought it’s “an awful lot of money” to spend on a virtual school system that requires teachers to work at an office rather than at home, freeing up space. But Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt said there are “mixed models” across the state where offices used for virtual schooling double up as testing sites or meeting sites between teachers and students. The option is open though to move in the direction of enabling teachers to work off site.
The reinvention at Belle Terre would not be cheap. The first phase would cost over half a million dollars, two subsequent phases would cost $2.5 million. Most of those costs are the up-front costs of buying portables that would create new space at the club’s grounds. But Board Chairman Trevor Tucker said the cost would be minimal compared to the cost of having to build an expansion at Matanzas High School to accommodate more students there–an expansion that the move of the Step-Up program to Belle Terre could make unnecessary.
There are 66 student stations at Indian Trails in the Trail program alone. Each new portable at the Belle Terre club would provide 860 square feet, three of which would provide 2,592 square feet, about the space the Trails program is taking up at Indian Trails Middle School. The 4,500-square foot gym could also be modified for the Trails program rather than the Youth Center.
Any of the proposals can be combined with one permutation or an other, Peacock said. “There’s really just a lot of different options, a couple of options could benefit us in moving forward in getting ready to move the 6th grade back into middle schools,” Peacock said.
The proposal in essence resolves one of the district’s thorniest dilemmas–how to make better use of the Belle Terre club without eliminating an amenity that, as of today, provides generates income from 229 annual memberships (paying $225 each), 37 monthly memberships, and from three health care reimbursement programs with over 600 participants who use the facility on a more per-day basis.
But the board didn’t make a decision. It directed Peacock and Freeman to gauge the public response to the plan.
“This could be a multi-phased plan over the course of several years,” Dave Freeman, the district’s