The Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club, run by the School District, will close if another entity doesn't take it over.
The city of Palm Coast will place the issue of the endangered Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club on the agenda for a proposed meeting with the Flagler County Commission, City Council members decided at a Sept. 1 City Council meeting.
The issue of the pool, which is owned and run by the Flagler County school district but may soon be closed because the district can’t afford to run it, wasn’t on the city’s agenda for its regular Tuesday evening council meeting.
But a dozen people, most of them Palm Coast residents, came to the meeting anyway, asking the city to take action to save the facility.
CarMichael McMillan, a member of the Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club Advisory Board, a council formed by club members to seek a way to keep the facility open, said the club benefits city residents.
“If it needs some support, the amount of money that would go toward keeping that facility afloat is not that great for what it gives to this community,” he said.
The club, donated to the school district in 1996, before the city’s formation, made $138,000 in revenue last year, but required $352,000 in operating costs. The district, facing budget cuts from the state, says it can’t afford to keep it open.
The YMCA talked with the school district about taking it over, but would need $200,000 to operate it until it could sustain itself.
So the School Board put out a request for proposal for other entities to take it over. The Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club Advisory Board is collecting money to try to make a bid, but would need to raise about $50,000 by Sept. 21 to do it, board director Doug Courtney told club members at an Aug. 21 meeting.
Marion Fox, an instructor at the facility, told City Council members that revenue from the facility was down because it hadn’t been advertised.
Other club members said it was a refuge for seniors who felt ill-served at commercial gyms, or who want a place where they can swim. The nearest comparable facility, they said, is in Ormond Beach.
Palm Coast Mayor Jon Netts questioned how much of a need the location serves if its membership is dropping off.
“There must be something about it that’s not meeting the needs of the public,” he said.
The audience booed. People shouted that it hadn’t been advertised properly.
Councilman Steve Nobile said it might be a good location for a senior services center.
“For the last 30 years, I have attempted to promote industry moving into Palm Coast, and one of the things we’ve been told for 30 years, is that Palm Coast was developed and created as a retirement community,” he said. “And one thing I’ve always said is, ‘How can we be a retirement community and not even have a senior center?’ Now, I do not know the full breadth of the information about Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club and its potential for that, but I personally would like us to look into whether it would help us in that area … to see if it could potentially fill that niche that we really have nothing for,” he said.
Councilwoman Heidi Shipley suggested the city hold a workshop about the issue “just to see if we have some way of helping.”
“We do give money to golf courses, and we do give money to this and that, and I think they have a good argument with that,” she said.
City Manager Jim Landon pointed out that the city already has its own pool, the Frieda Zamba, and that it’s just blocks away from the Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club. If the school district shuts down the club, he said, the city could try to make the Frieda Zamba more attractive to seniors.
“There’s ways to make sure that seniors are more welcome at our pool if the school district does shut it down,” he said. But, he said, “It’s kind of strange to have two pools so close together, both old and both in need of so much attention.”
Netts suggested adding the matter to the agenda for a proposed meeting with the County Commission.