The school district’s beloved but deficit-prone Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club is going to change, its current model proving unsustainable for the district. What it will look like in the future is not yet clear. But it will become clearer over the next few months as the district explores a partnership with the private sector, studies scaling back some of the club’s operations, and devises a different way forward. For now, closing the facility appears not to be too visible on the list of possibilities.
Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt summed up the state of the club to the Flagler County School Board this afternoon in her most detailed analysis of the Swim and Racquet Club’s fate following the latest report on the facility’s finances, which have it running a current deficit of $89,000, and a projected deficit of $168,000 for the year.
Mittelstadt said the facility is outside the educational mission of the district. “This facility is unique to Flagler School district,” she said, being supported by the operational side of the district’s budget when necessary: when the facility itself doesn’t cover its bills, the general fund makes up the difference, though it doesn’t have to–and in some board members’ view, it shouldn’t have to. Board Chairman Trevor Tucker is of that mindset.
“I will tell you moving forward, the financial concerns that we’re sharing with you, there’ll be some decisions to be made over the course of the next month or two as we share some opportunities from private investor who is interested in helping–we’re meeting with later this week–and my conversations at a working group I had with other governmental agencies and what their contributions may or may not be able to be,” Mittelstadt cautioned. “At the end of the day, we’re going to look different on how we provide that service. That is not our mission. That’s a very delicate balance that we’re trying to walk to get forward to a good healthy place financially but also to be a good partnership with community members.”
The board last discussed the club at length at a meeting on Feb. 23, which drew a couple of dozen residents, most of them members of the club, in a protesting mood: they were under the false impression that the board was preparing to shut the facility down. Most of them spoke to the board, imploring it to keep the facility open. The board had also discussed the facility a few weeks earlier, when it was alerted to the year’s deficit and when the discussion likely gave rise to members’ fears of a shut-down ahead.
Then and now Board member Colleen Conklin tried to calm those fears. “Community members don’t even know that we are the owners of the Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club,” Conklin noted today. “Really no decisions have been made or really no recommendations have been made one way or another to close the Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club.”
That comment and the presentation by Renee Stauffacher, who heads Flagler Technical College–the adult education division of the school district and the umbrella over the Swim and Racquet Club–had prompted the superintendent’s cautionary statement.
February’s presentation had lacked a few hard numbers. Stauffacher produced them today, though some of the numbers seemed at odds with numbers presented in February, among them memberships: in February, the district reported 197 full-time members paying $225 a year. The “paying member” graph presented today had the number at just below 1,000, and at 2,500 when the users combine members and those who pay to use the facility on a per-day basis, such as those who swipe in at $3 a day in conjunction with insurance programs.
“We are seeing people return as the vaccine is issued to them. They’re getting back to the gym,” Stauffacher said. “On the overall we’re on the upswing, things are starting to get back to normal at the club.” But the numbers did not seem healthy enough to preempt Finance Director Patty Wormeck’s conclusion that the $63,500 in membership fees generated through February are still $50,000 short of where things were a year ago.
Board member Jill Woolbright in February had inquired about the club’s tennis courts, suspecting that they were underused, even though there’s talk of resurfacing them. Woolbright was right. “Not a lot of usage there,” Stauffacher said, with the same people using the courts on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, when the courts have been used.
“So it’s probably a dozen people that are using the courts,” Woolbright said–the same dozen.
Adult education classes are generating a profit of about $5,000, but that’s without taking into account the operational dollars it takes to run the facility.
“When I came on board as superintendent we were just trying to be mindful of being good stewards to our tax paying dollars and how we were utilizing them in making decisions going forward,” Mittelstadt said. “Covid has caused all of us, in whatever organization you serve in, to pay attention to your budgets and look where you stand and realize those factors that have contributed to potential loss along the way.” She said when the board decides in the next few weeks how to keep the facility going, “those decisions funding-wise take out of opportunities at our school-based sites because of the way that we’re funded through Tallahassee.”
If that remains the case, board members, despite their affection for the facility, are unlikely to support a funding model that’s not self-sustaining. Mittlestadt prepared the way: “We are not obligated by our mission to continue to serve the community in regards to some of the programs that are offered there,” she said.