Chances that the Flagler County School Board will close the Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club are getting slimmer every day as club backers have made good on closing a budget gap there, in large part by more than doubling membership and bringing in unexpected new, recurring revenue.
The school board set a Feb. 2 drop-dead deadline for its decision on the fate of once-beleaguered club, owned and run by the district’s adult and community education arm but cherished and appropriated by a nearly fanatical core group of supporters and users. Those users, along with adult education officials, have been largely responsible for the club’s rejuvenation, at least in the short term. The long-term prospects of the club are still cloudy as the facility needs a costly face-lift that may add up to $500,000. But that future is no longer nearly as bleak as it seemed just a few months ago.
The board is scheduled to meet on Feb. 2, with the club’s future on its agenda.
“It looks pretty favorable that we’re going to remain at the current hours that we have,” Kevin McCarthy, who heads the district’s adult education division, said, referring to the scaled back hours and slimmer staff the club adopted late last year as a cost-saving measure. Speaking of the board, he said, “I feel confident that they’ll keep the facility open.” But he cautioned that the board may still vote differently.
The ageing Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club lost $141,000 last year. As losses were piling up, the board decided in July to close the facility, at least to the public, by fall, and use it only for high school swim teams and the county’s Synchro Belles, the much-decorated synchronized swimming team.
That triggered an outcry from its core members. They formed a pressure group called the Belle Terre Citizens Advisory Group, which quickly filed for a non-profit designation and organized two big, well-attended open houses at the club to raise awareness of the club’s existence to many new residents and build up memberships. It’s been working. Last weekend, the club maintained a booth at the annual home and lifestyle show–itself an adult and community education production–and added more memberships.
In all, the club went from 130 memberships last October to over 300 so far, Doug Courtney, head of the citizen’s group, said Monday. The goal was 400 memberships. But that was before the Flagler County Commission said it would approve an annual $25,000 contribution to the club’s operations, the revenue equivalent of 125 annual memberships. The commission has yet to formally approve the contribution, but McCarthy said the approval may be on the commission’s Feb. 1 meeting agenda. Palm Coast is refusing to make a monetary contribution. It sees the club as competition for its own parks and recreation programs: the city did not mention Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club in a press release listing fitness outlets at the beginning of the year.
“With the additional funds and everything we’re well over the $80,000 they requested,” Courtney said, referring to the budget gap the school board said had to be closed, or else. “It wasn’t the number of members so much as it was the money. We had to raise $80,000.”
Overall, Courtney said, the operation is well above the minimum $80,000 required, and it should be on course to a money-making operation again. He cited talks with organizations such as Florida Health Care, the Silver Sneakers program, which gives eligible members of health insurance plans subsidized access to facilities such as Belle Terre Swim and Racquet, and with others seeking partnerships with the club to make it part of their wellness programs, all of which would either increase membership or add to revenue. But, Courtney said, “everything is on hold until Feb. 2,” as these organizations want to see how the board will vote before proceeding.
Even without such arrangements, the club’s finances are stronger. “I’m confident that we’ve met the goal that’s required, but I don’t vote,” Courtney said. “I feel we’ve done very, very well. I feel we’ll turn this into a revenue stream for adult education.”
The district has also been improving the facility. It has redone the sauna, enticing a few more members to join. But that’s only a beginning. McCarthy says if the school board extends the club’s life, the next step will be to develop a plan for the facility’s capital improvement.
The pool deck and the pool itself must be resurfaced, for example. That will cost money. It will also require the facility to be closed for a couple of weeks. The locker rooms by the pool need refurbishing. “If money were no object, the best thing would be to rebuild,” McCarthy said. But money is an issue, so refurbishing is more likely. And the wellness center’s innumerable fitness machines are old and need to be replaced, just as the nature of fitness has changed, with users’ expectations demanding certain machinery the club does not own. That’s a large investment. “We’re not a Planet Fitness, we don;t have a national organization to help us with this,” McCarthy said.
Also, the tennis courts will need resurfacing. And the portable sitting at the site, used for various classes, will have to be dealt with: it’s getting old, it’s a portable, meaning that it’s supposed to be temporary by definition.
The facility has never had a three to five-year capital improvement plan. That may be part of the next step, McCarthy said.
Assuming the board is willing to call the Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club Lazarus on Feb. 2.