The Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club has been going through a midlife crisis: ageing infrastructure, relentless competition from mushrooming fitness clubs, decreasing membership, serious deficits. The Flagler County School Board, which owns the club and runs it through its Adult Education division—itself battling deficits—briefly flirted with ending its connection to the club, or closing it, if deficits were to continue.
But earlier this year a white knight appeared: the Volusia Flagler YMCA. Since being forced to vacate its last space in the county, at Florida Hospital Flagler, in 2011, when the hospital needed the space to expand its foundation division, the YMCA has been looking to return under viable circumstances. It wasn’t lacking membership at the hospital, with some 900 membership accounting for 1,200 members—well over twice the current membership of the racquet club.
The first week of March, Adult Education Director Kevin McCarthy elicited a big sigh of relief from the school board when he revealed ongoing talks to bring the Y back to Flagler, and lease the Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club to the organization. Talks had been preliminary at the time. But they’ve gone further along.
“We haven’t gotten to a point with an actual contract or an agreement,” McCarthy said Friday, but the plan is to submit a draft proposal to the board next month. It will be a lease agreement, leaving the board still the owner of the property, and still responsible for the physical plant. But the Y will run the facility the way it runs innumerable such fitness clubs across the country, increasingly in association with local government agencies.
“They’re looking at our financials, our operating costs, and the facility,” McCarthy said. “It’s our goal and the YMCA’s goal to have a tentative agreement within a month, we’re looking ideally to have them in place for the fall.”
For all its recent headaches, the Belle Terre club has one more to deal with. It’s been hanging over its head since 2011. It’s not going away, but it’s not going to affect t the deal with the YMCA, either.
It’s a lawsuit—the only lawsuit McCarthy knows of, though he became director only last July—from a former patron, and it appears to be heading for trial, judging from the last hearing on the matter before a local circuit judge last week.
It started with an incident three days before Christmas in 2010. Elly Emling, a resident of Hembury Lane in Palm Coast who was 74 at the time—she turns 79 on Saturday—was a member of the racquet club and was using a treadmill there. She was walking when the treadmill “malfunctioned and abruptly stopped then started again,” throwing her to the edge of the treadmill, according to the lawsuit. The machine did not have an automatic stop or a kill switch. So the treadmill kept on running while Emling was still on it.
She fractured her left hip and sustained an injuries to her leg. A year later, she sued, citing negligence and compensation exceeding $15,000.
“Her initial demand was in excess of $100,000, but we’re negotiating with her and we’ll see where it goes,” School Board attorney Kristy Gavin said this week. (State law would limit an award to $100,000, according to a filing by the board.)
The suit was actually initially—and incorrectly—filed against the county, which quickly responded and got itself out of it since, of course, the county has nothing to do with Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club. Emling was represented by Stephen Knight, a Tallahassee attorney, who refiled the lawsuit in April 2012, naming the school board.
In its defense, the school board put the blame on Emling. It was Emling, the board responded in its court filing, who “was negligent by not paying time and attention to her actions and surroundings.” That negligence, the board claims, was the only cause of her injuries, as was her “misusing the facilities and equipment.” The board also claims that since Emling’s medical bills were paid for “by collateral sources,” it should not be liable for them. If Emling is now claiming that she cannot work as a result of the injuries—as she does in her suit—the board retorts that she was the one who was not “availing herself of other employment options where such options.” The board also shifts blame onto Lloyd’s Exercise Equipment, which was under contract with the board to maintain all fitness equipment at the racquet club.
Emling has since added Lloyd’s to the lawsuit. The case last appeared before Circuit Judge Michael Orfinger in a hearing on April 1. A trial is set for late May or early June.