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.
What a shame. Because of Covid 19 many of our members have had to stay home to remain safe. I’m planning to renew my membership tomorrow now that I finally got my second shot. I’m sure within a month or so many of us will return.
This facility is a gem. Supporting and offering a wonderful place for the Palm coast swimming team swim team, Aqua Bells, community swim lessons for those young and older. The tennis courts if open to Pickle ball would be crowded and self supporting. The work out, gum has always been a great facility for elders. Not to forget the Thai Chi, yoga, music lessons and computer classes. And much more.
To lose this facility would be tragic. We simply must find a way to keep it open as all of us rejoin Bell Terre. Covid has been devastating but we must not let it beat us.
Members will return the new superintendents help and support will be appreciated for a while longer. Educational opportunities are part of the entire community . Our elders will return as soon as we get our shots
So give the facility to the city, they could run it like the golf course and tennis facilities. The city could then charge the school system for use of the facility. Not our mission pretty well says it all, how about bus transportation, food services and a host of other items they have picked and chosen over the years?
James M. Mejuto says
I’m certainly returning to the Belle Terre Swim & Racket Club tomorrow. I’ve been away from it
My only worry is the measure of sanitation in this pandemic.
Percy's mother says
1. This place has been mismanaged for years.
2. Three people (employees) sitting in the office doing almost nothing all day, three people to do what could be done online if the correct software were instituted. Software plus 1 part-time employee would be sufficient. What are 3 office people getting paid to do aside from nothing all day? How much is that costing the school board / taxpayers?
I’ve been swimming laps there since the 1980s. I know.
James M. Mejuto says
re: Percy’s mother: It seems to me your disappointment getting back to exercise is clouding
your judgement. I have been away too long from the club but I realize this pandemic
has pitted people against each other.
Computers run well when they are working and this does not negate the fact live people have
to run the operation.
Your response should be to make sure all sanitation steps are taken to insure the safety of all
members. Help find ways to increase membership while making the space as healthy as
possible . . . encouraging new members.
If they had painted the tennis courts for pickle ball, as was suggested at least 5 years ago, they would be overrun with paying clients. Instead they let “a dozen” tennis players call the shots. Tennis is a dying sport – why keep supporting it?
Nobody seemed to care. Pickle Ball could still be put in . Would bring lots of players.
Judith Back-Zack says
I’ve been using the gym nearly every day since they reopened last May. We are only allowed to use every other machine and must wipe the machines down before and after use. Ninety-nine percent of the members do just that (but you always get one or two with an attitude). Many members are finally starting to come back after getting their Covid 19 vaccines. It is still the best place in all of Palm Coast for seniors to keep physically and mentally healthy as people feel a kinship there. We talk and care about each other. I pray they don’t close this place as most seniors don’t care for the newer gyms that have come to the area. The pool is wonderful. It’s the best exercise for seniors and is family friendly as well. It seems today that cities think of seniors as something to throw away, that we don’t exist. Seniors are living (and VOTING) longer. We need places like BTSRC to stay healthy. Hopefully the city or county can take it over. Seems like they have plenty of money for splash pads at Holland Park
James M. Mejuto says
re: Judith-Back Zack: I’m so glad you added your views.
Yes, it is a great place for us seniors to exercise, along with the pool.
Yes, there are a few lowlife, mask-deniers who try to contaminate
our place but they must be read the ‘riot act.’ There is no call
for anyone to politically contaminate our area as we exercise.
Yes, I agree Holland Park is an issue and we have to set our priorities.
However, I’m not sure that pickle-ball courts will increase membership.
It will take some time with this Pandemic to get back to full force.
Deborah MacGilmord says
I am very worried about the closing of Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club. My favorite thing is to be swimming. The reason that I moved down here from New England was so that the swimming season was longer. Unfortunately, I am not wealthy like many new Palm Coast, therefore, I can not afford to built my own personal pool. I relie on the City of Palm Coast to have community swimming pools such as BTSRC. Freida Z. Is terrible because there are many young children splashing around to be able to really swim also because they hold on to the edges of the pool to craw into the deeper water. Please do want ever you can to keep BTSRC a community pool open to all Palm Coaster.