With less than a month to go before a deadline when its fate will be decided, the Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club is approaching the number of members it must enroll to stay alive. But it’s not there yet. Progress has been slow, and existing members have complained about facility maintenance, while the health department has alerted the club of algae issues in its pool. The issues are being addressed, officials said.
The club is owned and run by the Flagler County School Board. But it’s been losing money. Last year the board said repeatedly it would close the club if it couldn’t find another organization to run the club, or if the board’s own adult education division, which runs the facility, couldn’t halt losses. Membership-led efforts to keep the facility open were successful as a group called the Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club Advisory Committee convinced the board to let it help drive up membership. But the board said it would keep the facility open only if 400 members were recruited by the first week of February.
Tuesday evening, the board got an update. As of Dec. 31, some 239 members have been recruited, up from about 130 last October. That’s still short 161.
Last year’s losses at the club totaled $141,000. Patty Wormeck, the district’s finance director, said that based on current membership number, the reduced hours and the staff cuts, the loss over the year would add up to $54,000. But that’s assuming there would be no additional memberships.
“If we got the 161 members at this point in the next month or two and beefed up our daily and monthly fees just a bit,” Wormeck said, “we’re estimating that we’d get a loss of $17,000 at the end of this fiscal year, which is a huge change.”
The figures don’t include the annual $25,000 grant Flagler County government has pledged to the club, as the board has taken no action yet on that pledge (though it has given no indication that it would turn it down, either). Kevin McCarthy, who heads adult education, said that every scenario regarding the future of the club is “significantly better than where we were a year ago.”
“The spirit of this update today is so that the board knows, the community knows, the members, everybody is informed of where we are in the process,” Superintendent Jacob Oliva said, “because our next board meeting in February, we’re going to be asking the board to make a decision on the future of the Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club. And the more information and data and information we can share now, I think for the sake of transparency, will help for those decisions that have to be made.”
Community members addressing the board were concerned about maintenance issues at the club, including the sauna. The health department’s latest inspection also pointed out that the pool had an algae issue. “You can’t really go out and sell membership if you have an algae issue,” Board Chairman Colleen Conklin said.
The club ordered a new pool vacuum to address that. “According to the department of health, if I understood the report correctly, it’s a cosmetic issue,” McCarthy said. “There was no recommendation to do anything in their inspection report.” The sauna should be fixed by the end of the week.
Oliva, who’s been eager to keep the facility open, spoke of its prospects in encouraging terms. “We’ve definitely seen the benefit from a shift in philosophy on how we had run the swim and racquet club in the past even though we had to reduce services and hours and cut staff,” he said. “We put some ownership on the members to start that grassroots campaign, and we’ve seen a little bit of a positive sign and some feedback, and hopefully as the word gets out, that it’s a great place to start your New Year’s resolution if you haven’t started already and want to find a place to go and enjoy and be part of a healthy lifestyle. We’ll see some more members in January so that when we report back in February, we’ll be more in line with the goals that were set by the board.”
He noted that for anyone looking to give the club a try, free one-day passes are available. “After they do that for a day they’ll be hooked and they’ll want to be a member full-time.”