The Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club is dying a painfully public death. Absent a savior in the form of a buyer or a lessor, the club will soon be history, at least as a public facility. The club owned and run by the Flagler County School Board, is the victim of a rapidly changing city and county where it once was the only fitness option in town, and now is one of dozens, and among its least desirable, judging from memberships. The location of Palm Coast’s Frieda Zamba pool less than a mile away is no help to Belle Terre’s bottom line, either.
The school board earlier this week agreed to put out a request for proposal for interested parties that may want to run the facility. But it’s a last-ditch effort to save the club, and show the community that the board has made every attempt to keep the club going. It’s also very unlikely that the effort will produce a viable savior, since it’s been no secret that the board has been looking for one.
“Nobody wants to see anybody hurt,” Superintendent Jacob Oliva said on Tuesday. “We all understand that we have the pool. And we want to make it work for everybody involved. What we’re saying is that we cannot be tasked with running and operating the pool. If we can find someone that can make that work—we get so many people who say just give it to the county, give it to the city, give it to another entity. We’re willing to sit down and meet with anybody that wants to maintain the day to day operations.”
If you’d like to know what will likely happen next with the club, just recall the fate of the board’s massive Corporate Plaza building, which is slated for demolition in the next few months.
The building had been headquarters to the district’s adult and community education operations—which happen to run the Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club, among many other programs. The building had become so worn with age that last year it was condemned, at least as an educational facility. Its needed repairs would have been in the millions of dollars, money the district does not have.
After agonizing discussions, the board agreed to put the building up for sale. There were no interested buyers. So it will be demolished, and the board will hold on to the land, which is more valuable than the building anyway and won’t cost the district $70,000 a year to maintain.
The board is now going through the same steps with the Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club. The facility lost $137,000 this year. The district cannot sustain those losses. It has tried to convince the Volusia Flagler YMCA to take over and lease the property, running it as a club. Months of discussions finally ended with the YMCA insisting that absent a $200,000 investment in the facility for upgrades, it would not take over.
Superintendent Jacob Oliva next met with the city managers of every city in Flagler, and the county administrator, hoping to draft their help in shoring up the club. But the managers were adamant. “Every one of them agreed that we should not be in recreation, that they need to own that,” Oliva said. “And honestly everybody should be thanking this board for finding ways to sustain this club for as many years as it has.”
So he proposed a formal request for proposal, a bidding process, that’ll be out for 30 days. But Oliva couldn’t be more clear: “We cannot operate and maintain the pool. We don’t have the dollars to do it.”
The district’s main concern is to ensure a place for high school swimmers to swim, and for the Synchro Belles, the synchronized swimming program, to practice.
If a savior is not found by fall, the school board has no money to keep the facility going at a rate of $24,000 a month.
As of Sept. 7, pool hours will be restricted in such a way that students have first priority.
Several members of the public addressed board members Tuesday, mostly in opposition to plans that would shutter the club. “I’ve never seen such fighting between the seniors and the school board,” one man said. “You’ve got to find some reason or some way to keep the Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club open.” A veteran noted that many members at the club are veterans themselves—in good shape in part because of the facility’s amenities. A member of the club said the facility is serving the community beyond its members—as with the Synchro Belles, the synchronized swimming team. (But the Synchro Belles is the only team that has used the facility.) The president of the Synchro Belles addressed the board, encouraging members to work on a solution with the Belles should the facility be closed. “Please give us direction for the Belles that we have a place to swim,” he said.
CarMichael McMillan, who manages a Swip-Swap page on Facebook and has led a grass-roots campaign against red-light cameras, urged the board to give it more time. He’s spearheading a proposal to take the facility “back to profitability,” but through two non-starters, as far as the school board is concerned: building the club’s membership again (even as it has been dwindling, because of fierce competition from cheaper and more streamlined health clubs in town), and getting the county and Palm Coast to contribute money to shore up the club meanwhile. The county and the city are not, as Oliva noted, interested.
“This is the beginning of a larger conversation that has needed to happen for some time,” Colleen Conklin, who chairs the school board, said, referring to the county and the city’s need for a larger aquatic center that answers the need of the entire community. Palm Coast government has just such an aquatic center in its long-range development plan, but it’s on a very distant horizon. “I’m interested to see at the end of the 30-day process the kinds of RFPs that come in and what kind of involvement the community wants.”
People can bid on the entire site, they can bid on renting just one or both the buildings on the site, at around $16 a square foot. The lease would start at one to five years and would be renewable. The figures are negotiable, and the students’ time for use of the facility has not been figured into the RFP. “If someone were to come in and say they wanted to use the pool,” School Board attorney Kristy Gavin said, “then the lease agreement would be with a stipulation and that would be contained within the lease agreement, the terms would be that K-12 takes priority and has precedence over the pool. The hours would be determined by the district of when it was needed.”
It was left up to board member Trevor Tucker, the board’s financial stickler, to remind his colleagues that the decision regarding the club’s future must also be made should the RFP yield no viable offers. Board members did their best to avoid that discussion just yet. Tucker wanted the facility closed to members on Sept. 7, to stop losses. “If a group comes forward to lease that facility, great. But we have to have a drop-dead time,” Tucker said. “If we just say, all right, we’re going to continue operating this without any drop-dead time, this will go on forever, and that, I have a problem with, because we’re losing revenue. We don’t have the money. Adult-community education right now is really stressed financially. This doesn’t make financial sense. So I want a drop-dead date that this is the end of the time time that we’re going to continue to operate Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club.” Board member Sue Dickinson agreed with the approach, citing the corporate plaza building as an example of “throwing money into a hole” month after month before a final decision was made.
The district’s cost to run the pool is $24,000 a month, not including the district’s debt-servicing.
Conklin considered the Tucker proposal ill-timed. She wants the RFP process to run its course first. That would be late October to early November, with the possibility of a special meeting to review the proposals.
“I just personally, two months, to do it right, I don’t have an issue with that,” Conklin said.
“Well I have an issue with you saying do it right, Ms. Conklin, that wasn’t a necessary statement, because doing right is for the kids, not for the adults, but that’s OK,” Dickinson said. That provoked a howl of protest from the audience, prompting Conklin to intervene to quiet the crowd.
Tucker’s motion failed.
Download the Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club RFP here.
Brian Riehle says
Would someone please come on here and explain how closing the pool to the public and still maintaining it as a school facility for the high school swimmers and the Synchro Belles is going to reduce the annual losses ?
They keep on taking away from those “grandfathering” users rights, the facilities and or amenities that they were promised and given to them by the original developer ITT when they bought their homes here.
Same way they wanted to take away our Linear Park grandfathering use of over 25 years and close it to us all if was not for the fight the late Councilman Jerry Full and us all put up against! Also we fought for our beloved Palm Harbor Golf Course and won so far. They took away in the same andd destroyed the Matanzas Golf Course or our pool facility on the ocean front sold to Bobby Ginn…School bought the money loosing Corporate Plaza and some in these school board members of today were the same ones making that pathetic decision to buy it then. Now they make the seniors pay for their financial ignorant decision by taking away from them their Belle Terre pool? What about their grandfathering rights to that use? After all are those seniors who pay the taxes that sustain the schools and their financial wasteful maneuvers…why instead they don’t cut the administrative waste? Nope, they keep hiring red tape like the latest addition at over 60,000/year for public information….and do not forget the county 12,00 salary increase for their TDC head! They increase the administrative bureaucracy and funds waste to benefit developers while cutting the services we all pay for with our taxes, including our grandfathering rights to use…just because we do not take them to court! Why to keep enduring “their pay and shut up?” Because here come again our tax increases including the school’s while cutting our services! Don’t let them take away your grandfathering rights based in frivolous, baseless, greedy reasons to gear our funds for their personal interest!. They waste our taxes like drunken sailors digging further into our pockets while closing our facilities!
If they are going to continue to maintain and operate the facilities for use by the high school and snycro bells, then what exactly are they saving by closing it to the public and cutting off any revenues from the public use? I do not understand this. Where are the savings?!?
@ Confidential – and it all is encumbered by Federal Trade Commissions Consent Agreement F.T.C. C-2854.
Brad W says
First of all, Trevor Tucker and Sue Dickinson are correct that there needs to be a solid date for closure. Colleeen Conklin is once again displaying why there is no case for the schools needing more money when she is willing to allow waste of over $20,000 per month of our tax dollars to continue. It’s sad. We get it, but the reality is that it is taking $20,000+ per month away from our schools!!! Why is that so difficult to understand?
This is a perfect example of why I get disgusted when I hear how much money the schools don’t have and we see a school board member (and Chair at that) once again not addressing the enormous loss right in front of her face. Yet our school board has wanted to try and con home owners out of additional tax dollars with “only a cup of coffee” sales-pitches just a few years ago while telling us it will cost $2 million to add 45 minutes back into the school day.
Let me say this once again . . . Colleen Conklin should NOT be on our school board any longer let alone chairing it. Allowing the taking of $20,000+ away from students each month for a pool is absurd and to delay that for no good reason displays a lack of responsible behavior and not being a good steward of our tax dollars on her part.
Brad W says
After reading through the proposal by Mr. Carmichael, I have to add how highly inappropriate that proposal is. First of all, it is NOT a marketing & advertising problem. And to try and frame it is so seeking personal gain for one’s own “company” at the expense of actual home owners whose tax dollars are the ones being literally dumped down a drain and taken from students is infuriating to me. And it should
Here’s the quotes from that proposal that says it all:
“We would like to see the marketing and promotion of the facility be turned over to a local startup Freemen Marketing. This firm will market and assist in building the membership for a share of revenues above current levels. They will not be paid unless they are successful in raising revenue and bringing new members to the facility. This revenue sharing model allows the facility to be promoted in a manner
needed without expending capital. Outlined below are the recommendations of Freemen Marketing”
I can find no website, single facebook page, or twitter profile for this “Freemen Marketing” in Palm Coast. It is very interesting to me that any company presenting itself as a “marketing” company that doesn’t have an online presence these days. It’s really sad that any resident focuses so heavily on serious local issues that are effecting actual tax paying home owners to try and exploit the situations for their own personal gain.
CarMichael McMillan says
I do appreciate your response. And you are correct that proposal was for a private entity to take over the much needed marketing and promotion aspect 9 months ago. We offered a private solution to this problem then. However we backed off when the YMCA solution that never panned out, was presented to us. How could a start-up compete with the YMCA?
My solution offered help without costing them money. We take the risk and expend the marketing dollars and talents, if successful the club is saved and the community benefits and God forbid we benefit too ( I know how awful, why should we benefit for our labors). We call it capitalism.
We wanted to begin addressing this issue 9 month ago. Instead of facing a 30 day deadline, we would have been working all year to save the club. There was no crisis 9 months ago but yes a private entity saw a coming problem and expended the research and effort to come up with a plan to save it. A plan that everything we are doing now is based on.
I appreciate your input and apparent need to criticize all the folks actually doing something. Where sir, is your plan? You are welcome to join us at our meeting, so long as you join the club and contribute $200 membership fee towards saving it. For that small sum you can help the community and more importantly have the pleasure of criticizing me to your hearts content.
David B says
I just can not believe how the people that use the pool, can not understand that you are taking a loss of $ 20 k a month from our education so that you can swim.