The YMCA may be returning to Flagler County, this time in an arrangement with the school district essentially to save the Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club while cutting the district’s financial losses there, which will exceed $200,000 this year.
There is no formal proposal either from the Volusia Flagler YMCA or the school board. But the YMCA’s board chairman and Flagler’s director of Adult Education, which currently runs the racquet club, unveiled the informal proposal at a meeting of the school board this afternoon. The YMCA board supports the initiative. The school board gave its assent at least to go forward and develop a formal proposal.
For Kevin McCarthy, the relatively new adult education director given what looked like a thankless task a few months ago—to devise a way of keeping the swim and racquet club’s programs alive while ending the financial bleed they’ve represented for the past two years—a deal with the YMCA would fulfill a pledge he made to the board and the club’s membership: to preserve what has become part of the local fiber.
“The mission of FTI is changing where we’re focusing more on education than recreation,” McCarthy said in an interview after the meeting, referring to the Flagler Technical Institute, the formal name of adult education. “We’re not in the business of running pools and health and fitness classes, that’s not our expertise. That’s what the YMCA does, and does very well.”
The YMCA was in Flagler County on two occasions before: at the Palm Cost Community Center in the 1970s and early 80s, and at Flagler Hospital Flagler for nine years until 2011, when the hospital needed the space. At the time, the Y had a membership of 900, accounting for a total of 1,200 people. (The Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club at last count had a membership of less than half those numbers.) But it has remained the Volusia-Flagler YMCA in hopes since to find a way to return.
“We’ve been in great dialogue with our friends at the YMCA to talk about some of the challenges we face in maintaining the day to day operations with engaging the community at the Swim and Racquet Club,” Superintendent Jacob Oliva said, “so what we’d like to do is introduce this concept to the board and share a little bit about the programming, and if the board gives us consensus to move forward with trying to formalize a proposal we would like to bring that to the board in the very near future.” Oliva stressed that the priority for the school board is to preserve such programs as its school swim teams and the county’s Synchro Belles.
The arrangement the Y and the school district are discussing would entail the Y leasing the racquet club and running it likely in partnership either with the district or with Palm Coast and perhaps private industry. But Oliva made clear that the district could not merely hand off the property in a lease arrangement, but would have to bring it up to certain standards—and spend money to do so.
In essence, the school board finds itself in similar circumstances that county government did with its old courthouse: the county had been looking to be rid of—or spin off—its courthouse, which had been costing it close to $100,000 a year in various maintenance bills for nearly a decade. But it was not finding tenants. It finally found a private school that will occupy the whole building, at very generous terms, including $375,000 from the county in capital improvements—money the school would ostensibly repay, at no interest, over the next 20 years.
Oliva was cautioning board members Tuesday that, without citing figures, some money would have to be spent on the racquet club before it becomes an attractive leasing option.
“There’s some extensive capital dollars that need to be invested in the facility so we need to come up with a plan to make sure that we get some improvements and everything up to place, hopefully to a level of standard that the YMCA wants to cherish and grow and support their program,” Oliva said. “So there is a lot to talk about and a lot to deal with. But before we started to go down that road I wanted to get a gauge from the board, is this the kind of conversation you want me to engage in before we come back with a formal process.”
It is, the board told Oliva (though the board was short two of its members at that point in the conversation: Andy Dance, who arrived a bit later, and Sue Dickinson, who was absent.)
McCarthy said the discussions have been going on with the Y for the past couple of months but got more serious in the last few weeks. He said the Y in Volusia and across the country has similar partnerships with local governments, running what used to be municipal pools—which, McCarthy said, are now prohibitively expensive for governments to run—with health clubs. “They would take over the day to day operations potentially for that facility and any other health and fitness program they want to bring to the area that would be up to them,” McCarthy said.
John Meneough, who chairs the Volusia Flagler YMCA board, said the Y board has been looking for a way back to Flagler for a while, with the recession getting in the way. He summed up the opportunity with the school district as “how can we work together, how can we take our expertise, how can we put programs in here and how can we expand it and look at different ways we can work together. It has to be a creative way. I know that you are losing money on it.”
The Y is hoping for a proposal within the calendar year, giving the school district a chance to phase out its current membership at the racquet club, directing it to the YMCA.
But the details of the deal, if there is a deal, are still very much to be worked out. “We’ll have to look at different ways, maybe even looking at bringing in other partners, third party, we’ve done that relationship with other cities, bringing in counties and city governments to help us out, and private industry. We have a lot of those things working. Once we get this to go public we can sit down and really roll up our sleeves and look at different ways we can do things.”