The advisory committee hopes to raise $50,000 to respond to the School Board's Request for Proposal and take over the facility.
About 110 people packed a classroom at the Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club Friday, Aug. 21, voting overwhelmingly in an at-times boisterous meeting to have the newly formed Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club Advisory Committee raise money to lease the facility from the School Board and operate it itself.
If they can’t do it, the School Board will close the facility, which operates at a deficit, this coming month.
The Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club, which was donated to the School Board in 1996, made $138,000 in revenue last year, but required $352,000 in operating costs. The School Board says the School District can’t afford to keep it, and at its most recent meeting, agreed to advertise a Request for Proposal for another entity to take it over.
The Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club Advisory Committee, formed last week by clubgoers and led by resident Doug Courtney — who worked for Palm Coast’s founding administration as a city clerk, and was a city clerk in Beverly Beach and a town finance director in Marineland — called Friday's meeting, and wants to be that entity.
To do that, Courtney told the crowd at the Friday meeting, “We have to show we’re a viable bidder. … They’re going to check our finances. And if we have a checking account with 22 cents in it, we’re not a viable bidder.”
The School Board will accept responses to the RFP is Sept. 21, and the committee wants to have $50,000 in its bank account before it sends its proposal to the School Board.
“In other words, folks, we’re going to have to collect money from you all,” Courtney said.
For the facility to sustain itself under the advisory committee’s leadership, Courtney said, it would need to sell at least 830 memberships of $250 each. So the Advisory Committee, he said, could collect the coming year's membership dues from interested club members itself, keeping records of everyone who contributed. If it doesn't win the RFP, it would refund the dues.
The board presented other options to the clubgoers at the meeting: The committee could try to entice another entity, like the YMCA, to take over the facility, or it could work with such an entity in a partnership.
The YMCA has said it would need $200,000 from the community to take over the Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club.
“The county and the city, God bless ’em, can’t work in 30 days. …If you want this facility to stay open, we’ve got to come up with a solution.” — Doug Courtney, Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club Advisory Board chairman
Volusia-Flagler YMCA director Teresa Rand, who attended the meeting, told clubgoers that the YMCA would be willing to work with residents to raise money and then return to the School Board. But the Y couldn’t do that on behalf of another entity.
“It’s either the Y, or it’s not the Y,” she said.
Other residents asked about having the city or the county intervene to save the pool. Courtney said there wasn’t time.
“The School Board is meeting Sept. 29, and they’re going to make a decision,” Courtney said. “The county and the city, God bless ’em, can’t work in 30 days. …If you want this facility to stay open, we’ve got to come up with a solution.”
One woman in the audience mentioned that the city already has a pool — the Frieda Zamba — and keeps it open only a few months each year.
Jim Canfield, the city of Palm Coast’s first mayor, told clubgoers at the meeting that although he doesn’t use the club himself — his grandchildren sometimes do when they visit, he said — the club is valuable for city residents.
“This is something that a good city or a good county provides the citizens,” he said. “You have a lot of power. You have a lot of power here, because you’re organized, you’re enthusiastic. … Stay with it, work on it, and it’ll happen.”
“The pool itself will always lose money. Pools do not make money — ever, ever, ever. You have to have all the ancillary offerings for that to work." — Teresa Rand, Volusia Flagler YMCA president
Rand warned the clubgoers in the room that there would be hurdles if the Advisory Committee goes it alone. For one, she said, it would be hard to get SilverSneakers, the exercise program for seniors that now has a relationship with the facility through through the School Board, to work with a new, not-yet-established entity. So current SilverSneakers members would probably have to pay for their own BTSRC memberships. And, she said, the facility would have to attract users for reasons other than just the pool.
“A $200 membership is great, but is not going to sustain the facility,” she said. “The pool itself will always lose money. Pools do not make money — ever, ever, ever. You have to have all the ancillary offerings for that to work. … I just caution you, it’s not as simple as it seems on paper.”
“It’s not simple at all, but there are options,” Courtney replied.
CarMichael McMillan, the Advisory Board’s secretary, urged clubgoers to vote to take over the facility without other entities.
“I believe that the same people that came to Palm Coast and turned a bunch of swamp land into a city can run a recreational facility,” he said. “Every other option puts us at the mercy of someone else. … So let’s move forward together and take control.”
Courtney motioned that the advisory board form a legal entity as soon as possible to create a proposal for the School Board’s RFP, raise money to lease the facility, and begin pursuing nonprofit status. The club users in the room spoke an overwhelming “Aye.”
The committee had raised $700, mostly from the cash people at the meeting had in their wallets, within a few minutes of the end of the meeting.