The Flagler County school district’s Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club has a genre-identity problem. But there’s been no prohibition on discussing it on the school board.
To the contrary. They’ve changed so often for the past several years that it’s not been easy to keep up with the district’s plans for the beleaguered, aging, often deficit-ridden and now nameless swim club.
The district has sought to close the club, sell the grounds, lease them, turn them into an annex to the system’s K-12 schools, keep the swimming pool and gym open but close the tennis courts, demolish the tennis court, place four or five portable buildings there, and in an ambitious plan presented to the board just last September, not without a little fanfare, consolidate numerous programs spread around the district onto the grounds of the club while keeping the pool, open for public use.
Paul Peacock, the assistant superintendent for operations, drafted that plan after extensive analysis of space needs around the district. It would have brought in the district’s alternative education program, virtual school, disability programs and possibly others to the 11-acre club grounds, freeing up seemingly much-needed space in middle schools now that sixth graders are being moved into them from elementary schools. (See: “Plan Would Reinvent Belle Terre Swim Club as Home to Several District Programs, Preserving Pool.”)
That plan appears no longer likely. It was dependent on the district renting up to five portables. The district came close to ordering them last month. The sticker price was apparently enough of a shock to cause a pause. Superintendent Cathy Mittlestadt asked Peacock to re-analyze current, available spaces. “We think we can do things in a different manner before we pursue with any type of longevity at this particular site,” she said.
“I believe very confidently that we have enough space with facilities that we currently have without having to have the additional cost of new portables in that area,” Peacock said.
“When we always talk about a relocatable,” Mittlestadt said, referring to temporary buildings commonly known as portables, “that’s not a permanent space. And so to tee up a half million dollars to put seven or eight portables for what may only be three or four years, is that really good use of the dollars?”
The revelation was a surprise to school board members at a workshop last week, as it would be, again, to the community at large. “I just think we need to circle back to the community because we had left that with basically a vision, a blueprint, of what this is going to be, and then that just kind of died,” Board member Colleen Conklin said. “We left the public with the impression that we were utilizing that space, we had a vision for it. And now, we’re going away from that.”
Not that any board member objected. The board’s focus has been more on the future of the swimming pool and the gym, which have long had a small but emotionally strong following in residents of long date: the club is 44 years old, its ownership as a school district facility dates back to 1996, when ITT donated it.
But keeping the facility going has been a struggle. It’s not every district that has its own health club. In fact, rare are the districts that do, making Flagler an outlier. The club has been a burden, and has at times needed infusion of cash from the general fund to keep it afloat, something some board members, including Chairman Trevor Tucker, simply don’t want to see. The facility is run by the adult education division of the district. It is set up as an “enterprise fund,” meaning that it should pay for itself, independent of dollars earmarked exclusively for K-12 education.
The district has been unable to draw interest in the property from potential buyers. What interest it has drawn would not have enabled either a sale or a lease. So it’s reverted to figuring out how best to make the grounds pay, alleviating the financial burden. That’s where Peacock’s idea emerged from, only to run into its own financial wall: if the consolidation plan was to be a cost saving, the district wasn’t going to get there with a half million dollar investment in portable buildings.
Instead, the district has reverted back to making the club as viable a facility as possible, as a club, without additional burdens. That means scaling back swimming pool and gym hours significantly, and keeping club rates exactly where they are now. Members won’t like it. But the alternative would have been to cut back the hours and raise the rates.
Josh Walker, coordinator of community services, presented that revised plan to the board, drawing no objections.
The pool and gym are currently open seven days a week, from 6 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. on weekdays, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday, for a total of 80.5 hours a week, requiring both the pool and the gym to be staffed for those hours.
The revised schedule would be Monday, Wednesday and Friday, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., with significantly shorter hours on other days: Tuesday and Thursday the club would be open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday it would be open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and it would be closed on Sunday.
That would result in 58 hours of operation per week, a 28 percent reduction.
Fewer hours, but same cost: Current membership costs are $420 a year for an adult, $240 for students. Individuals may use the facilities for $4 a day. The charges would not be reduced in line with shorter hours.
“Closing the pool on Sundays in the summertime is going to be a major issue,” Conklin said. Board member Cheryl Massaro sees Sundays as “family time” at the pool. Fellow-Board member Jill Woolbright, recalling her time as a lifeguard “a long time ago,” said it was “very boring to be in there.”
Walker said summer pool hours could accommodate Sunday openings, but he noted that Palm Coast, with its own municipal pool nearby, keeps it open through the summer, and may even be considering keeping the pool open all year. The pool is closed half the year. It reopens April 4, operating only Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. There are no Sunday hours.
A Palm Coast government spokesperson said today that “as for any official changes to the pool, there are none at this time.” But the Palm Coast City Council is due to receive and discuss the Palm Coast Aquatics Center Assessment Report at an April 12 workshop, “so it is possible that they may discuss making changes to the operations of the facility at that workshop,” the spokesperson said. The council on April 26 has a budget workshop presentation from the Parks and Recreation Department, when it could also discuss the topic. (The Frieda Zamba pool still goes by that name, but the complex it’s located in is called the Palm Coast Aquatics Center. An earlier version of this article mistakenly stated that the Frieda Zamba name had been eliminated.)
The district intends to email all current club members to inform them of the changes.
A plan to demolish the tennis court–Peacock had said earlier this year that the courts were slated to be demolished in early March–appears also to have been shelved. Early this afternoon, as eight or nine people milled about in and around the pool, the tennis courts were padlocked, but still standing.
That leaves the club’s name to be decided. “We know it’s not a racquet club anymore,” Massaro said. And it’s not about to be, though there’s been little consideration of converting the tennis courts into pickle ball courts (the city is planning to expand its own tennis center on Belle Terre Parkway to accommodate pickle ball courts).
The district is now referring to Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club by the prosaic code P73, which stands for Patricia 73–the club’s street address off Patricia Drive in Palm Coast’s P Section. The eventual name will “coincide with what the actual use is,” Peacock said, making a Melvillian name–“Belle Terre, or the Ambiguities“–a real possibility.