The Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club, with scaled-back hours—and no hours on Sundays—has until Jan. 19 to secure 400 annual memberships valued at $200 each, for a total of $80,000. It currently has about a third that number. If the 400 membership aren’t signed by then, the school board intends to close the facility to the public.
As difficult as it was the school board and members of a large audience to make sense of the future direction of the club, that was largely Superintendent Jacob Oliva’s recommendation to the Flagler County School Board Tuesday evening, with the drop-dead date added by some board members. It gave club members some hope. But it left many others either disappointed or leery, including some board members and particularly leaders of a soccer academy who sought to take over and manage the facility for their growing program.
The board voted 3-2 in favor of that approach, a divided vote that reflected the fuzziness of the approach and the many questions left unanswered.
The decision, taken just after 8 p.m. after 90 minutes of debate, does not preclude the district from still seeking a viable alternative, including finding an organization that could run the facility, as long as the proposal pays for itself.
Pro Sports Pathways’ Center of Excellence had pitched just such a proposal to take over the club, preserve and increase the membership, and erase the district’s deficit there, with lease payments and, the academy claimed, more state education dollars for the district. Those dollars would have been drawn down by enrolling many of the academy’s home-schooled students in iFlagler, the district’s online school.
But Pro Sports did not figure in the recommendation. Some of its members said it was as a result of the district’s “grudge,” dating back from when Pro Sports declined to partner with the district when the district made the offer about a year ago, as the partnership would have compromised or constrained the freedoms the home-schooled students in the academy enjoy.
Three board members wanted a drop-dead date for a decision, two others wanted to give the club longer to meet its benchmark.
Oliva said Pro Sports was not out of the equation: it could still be a viable option, particularly if the school board gave him, as part of Belle Terre’s new direction, the responsibility to still seek an entity that could operate the facility. If, for example, the current arrangement failed to meet the January benchmark of 400 memberships, then Pro Sports could be among the alternative options. But Oliva made those statements in a brief interview after the workshop, before the business meeting. The board members had heard only of the recommendation for a “last-ditch effort” (in Oliva’s words) to give the membership a chance to take more ownership of the facility.
That approach would rely on the newly formed Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club Advisory Committee to shoulder much of the burden to produce the new memberships.
The pool would be open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. and on Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. It would be closed Sundays. The gym would be open from 6 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. It would be closed Sundays.
With those hours, the facility would incur $71,000 in personnel costs and $119,000 in operating costs, not including $54,000 in debt-servicing. Memberships would provide $80,000, the rest would be generated through daily user fees, which the district expects could add up to $50,000 a year, and $65,000 through the Silver Sneakers program, an insurance program that subsidizes users of the facility.
School Board member Janet McDonald was not convinced by the new approach. “As hopeful as we all are I didn’t hear any hard numbers and that concerns me,” McDonald said. “I know we had a drop-dead date of today for a decision and we were supposed to get some hard numbers. So much as I’d like to say this sounds wonderful, everything we’ve heard sounds wonderful.” But, she said, there hasn’t been enough of a follow-through from the community to assure the board that the optimism can translate into viable numbers.
Board member Sue Dickinson was even more doubtful about the approach. “Sure we might have had the numbers in the past but we don’t know that those numbers are going to be there for us,” Dickinson said.
But Oliva’s proposal had stronger support from Colleen Conklin, who chairs the board, and Andy Dance, who saw the debate over the future of the club as productive in itself: it created a new relationship between the district and the club’s membership. He was also reassuring to the Pro Sports crowd, calling it—and its home-schooled students—“a market we have not tapped.” He said the process illuminated “possible relationships with people we haven’t had relationships with before.” In that sense, he said, Pro Sports “could be part of the solution.”
“Not everybody is going to leave happy tonight, that’s the way the process is going to work,” board member Andy Dance said. He couldn’t see any reason why Pro Sports couldn’t use the facility in various ways, even if it weren’t running it. “I would hope we would have a dialogue about being inclusive with your group at the facility.” Dance even proposed that the sports academy could move its operations into the Belle Terre grounds through a use-of-facilities agreement “and give your students even more access to recreation opportunities and make them well-rounded.”
Dance added: “Unfortunately we’ve got two camps, and somebody is not going to be happy, so my hope is that whichever way it goes whoever is not happy will stick around” and not hold the decision against the board.
Conklin had favored giving the club until March to meet its 400-member benchmark. She was getting no support for that from a majority of the board members. She then cautioned against constantly telegraphing to the community that the club could be closing at any time—a message, she said, that works against the district’s efforts to keep the club open.
She was also concerned about portraying the board’s decision as favoring one group over another. “There is no reason in the world why there can’t be a conversation about adding opportunity to that facility, at all,” Conklin said, hoping to broaden the facility’s appeal to the Pro Sports group. “No group is winning over another group tonight.” She added: “When I see this proposal tonight I don’t see it locking out any nother group from participating.”
Parents and supporters of the academy had made their presence felt during the public participation period. “You had one solution and you excluded all others,” Ed Bice, the parent of two children in the academy and a daughter at Flagler Palm Coast High School, said. He said he was “concerned” about the way the board was spending money.
“I wouldn’t want to explain to the voters why we didn’t make this very smart economic decision” a local business owner told the school board in support of the academy, even though she has no children in the program.
“I’ve been a little bit disappointed over the last weeks and months over the process” involving Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club, Ryan Maloney, director of Pro Sports, said. “I don’t see why this place shouldn’t be reinvigorated and a successful facility. I genuinely believe we could provide that.” For nine months, he said, the organization had been looking for a bigger facility than the former bank it’s been operating from in the Palm Harbor shopping area.
Karen Cruz says
How do they get $71,000 in personnel costs? The staff is totally diminished and makes minimum wage.
I too am disappointed with the process over the last 6 months. This is not about education, this is about a swim club that has been draining money from the school district for years and years. I think Mr Dance and Ms Conklin are dead wrong in trying to keep this saga on going and it doesn’t seem like they can make the tough decisions when they have to. As far as Ms Conklins statement of caution,” She then cautioned against constantly telegraphing to the community that the club could be closing at any time—a message, she said, that works against the district’s efforts to keep the club open.” The public already knows over the last few months that if membership didn’t improve that the facility would likely close, that didn;t bring in any new concerned members coming out of the wood work joining up to prevent the closure, maybe the majority of the public really doesn’t care and would really like to see our tax dollars used for education instead of swimming pool memberships. Maybe something important like restoring the curriculum time taken away from middle schools, or helping with the Adults with disabilities program or maybe focusing on safer ways for our kids to get to and from school, these are real district issues, not swim club memberships. For crying out loud, middle school still has dismissal at 1:30. The other thing that really bothers me is if the district has these kinds of dollars to fiddle around for over a year with this at a loss of around $20,000.00 a month how come they always cry poor mouth, that there is never any money. I also was appalled to find out that the money we pay for extended day care doesn’t go back into this program and covers the losses for these pool memberships. I hope in the future we are not hearing about extended day care be eliminated or the fees going up because of this. Sometimes tough decisions need to be made and if a program can’t sustain itself then bottom line it needs to go! If a board member can’t make a tough decision when a program is losing hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, then maybe those board members need to go as well! This is supposed to be about education, not recreation!
Glenn Partelow says
This could be a viable appriach by yhe Board of Ed. If the continue to not heat the
Pool and Not civer it at night it may be impossible to convice the population to join. It has yet to be even simply covered as of now.
How many “clubs” do we have in this county? A gillion, I’ll bet. And each of them costs money to join. Instead of planning your own entertainment, why not DONATE some memberships to children and families here?
Would it be all that difficult to pay for a membership for someone else? Don’t tell us why it’s going to fail; tell us how it can succeed!
Seriously, let’s think about this…
How many administrators in this community at all levels make 6 figure salaries? As long as this practice is allowed to continue, our children and families will continue to take a back seat in this community.
“has until Jan. 19 to secure 400 annual memberships valued at $200 each, for a total of $80,000. It currently has about a third that number” From this article
“As of the meeting the committee had 110 memberships, all renewals.” from the ‘other’ Palm coast paper article
110 is not ‘about a third’ of the 400 number .. more like ‘about a fourth’.
Second point :
“With those hours, the facility would incur $71,000 in personnel costs and $119,000 in operating costs, not including $54,000 in debt-servicing”
Both of the articles quoted these figures, including the ‘not including $54,000’ phrase. Why is thye $54,000 debt service not included in the budget fantasies? The debt service is a more solid (and fixed) budget number than either of the personnel or operating costs. Do they plan on not paying it? Or trying to pass it off to another fund? Or what?
Third point : Do the math
“Memberships would provide $80,000, the rest would be generated through daily user fees, which the district expects could add up to $50,000 a year, and $65,000 through the Silver Sneakers program”
expenses : 71,000 + 119,000 PLUS 54,000 = $244,000
projected revenue : 80,000 + 50,000 + 65,000 = $195,000
STILL $49,000 short even with the ‘blue sky’ projection. Who’s yanking who’s chain here?
[Note: unlike operating dollars, debt service does not have to be paid out of money generated by the club; it may be covered, and is covered, by the district’s capital dollars, so it’s not an issue here.–FL]
Shame on the BOE . If making a simple decisions on closing a pool that has been losing 20,000.00 per month …How do you make really important decisions ! How fiscally irresponsible of all of you . If the school board can find that amount of money every month to keep a old pool open so that a handful of seniors and a couple of small groups can practice I hope that you never ask the public for additional school taxes. You clearly have hidden funds ……
Hidden funds or shifting funds. What is needed are federal and state forensic audits.
Palm Coast is looking into buying the yacht club why not look at this site for a community center??? Could not the County,City of PC and the school ALL split the cost of keeping this open? This should be run as a park facility. with a minimal daily use rate and a way to rent it out for privet social events events.
I hope that voters remember this come election time. There is no way possible that 400 new memberships will be acquired in the required timeframe. Instead of getting a facelift and new life breathed into it, this location will turn into another abandoned eyesore for Palm Coast (i.e. Palm Coast Tennis Center by the Toll Bridge.) The days of fun, family fitness will be gone and this location will turn into a place of crime, dilapidation, graffiti, and vagrancy. This is a shame and knowing most of the great families that attend the Soccer Academy, Palm Coast will be losing major dollars in the future. Please remember this when it comes time to vote, I will be helping campaign against the 3 that voted yes and I have a very large voice in the community. Trevor Tucker is the only voice of reason on this board, it is time to clean house.
Laura Shafiroff DeVivo says
MEANDERING in capital letters
I genuinely felt sad for Flagler County last evening. The school board Colleen Conklin, Andy Dance and particularly the Superintendent Jacob Oliva let down the community with a lackluster proposal that benefits no one. The plan is for Club is suddenly acquire 400 members with old gym equipment, less hours of operation, no Sunday use and a monthly check review from Board members who want to close it.. Yea I’d be running to sign up! NOT! It’s a joke and a waist of tax payer money! Conklin, Oliva & Dance should lose their positions! It’s sad for our kids, but this isn’t the end! The PSP COE is a collection of exemplary student/athletes and devoted families with a common goal to see our children and this program succeed! I have no doubt, even with this hiccup, that our children will have a facility they deserve!
Conklin and Dance are the home of the “enablers”!
scoff the cuff says
Thank you “Disgusted” and “MG”, on point. (And what did happen with ‘our’ NEW tennis facility in P.C.)
Found closing at two
what’s one to do
drive the same miles
to swim the seas blue
We can’t always get to the beach, the only other pool is great to have. I don’t know how to keep it, hope we can. It does need to be in better hands (what happened to our hotel on the intra-coastal and that other thing next to the toll bridge).
One would think in Florida we would have public pools that can be used by all and the schools swim teams? I know sports and the outlet they give to kids is second to teaching them that Boys dressing as girls and making a “clock” that looks like a bomb are more important.