- October 20, 2015
Local residents, the county government and the Flagler County School District have saved The Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club.
The School Board voted 5-0 at its Feb. 2 meeting to keep the facility open, drawing cheers and applause from club supporters who'd packed the meeting hall, and concluding their months of work to keep the district from closing the facility to the public.
"I’ll be honest: I’ll probably be the first person to tell you that at that point last year, I didn’t think that the club would be anywhere near where it is today," School District Superintendent Jacob Oliva said at the meeting.
He thanked club members, who'd formed a grassroots group called the Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club Advisory Committee, for their efforts to raise the club's membership to make it financially sustainable.
"I guess you can say there was a leadership lesson learned," he said. "When you empower the right folks and give them the tools they need, sometimes they’ll surprise you with the outcome that they can create. So we’re very blessed to have a different relationship, I think, with the club members than we'd had historically, and there’s a sense of pride and ownership in making sure that the facility is an attractive area."
The Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club has lost money year after year — including $141,000 last year — leading the School Board to plan last year to close it to the public and keep it open only for school groups, prompting an outcry from club members. They quickly organized.
The Feb. 2 meeting was the deadline for the Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club Advisory Committee to raise enough money to keep the facility open.
They had sought about $80,000 through a combination of memberships and donations, Advisory Committee organizer CarMichael McMillan said, and have raised that.
The committee had hoped for about 400 members (each paying $200 for a full annual membership), and has gotten about 300, he said. But a $25,000 donation from the county government — approved by the County Commission Feb. 1, just a day before the Feb. 2 deadline — made up the shortfall.
Between the new memberships and the county donation, Flagler County School District Finance Director Patti Wormeck said at the Feb. 2 meeting, the district expects a fiscal year loss of $7,800 at the facility this year. Just last month, it had been predicting a fiscal year loss of $54,000.
Oliva warned that the efforts to sustain the club aren't over. "This is an ongoing target that we’re still going to have to hit," he said. "It really needs to be not just cost-neutral but revenue positive," so the district can make some improvements to the pool and grounds.
He recommended the board approve a measure to keep the facility open. Several club members spoke during the meeting's public comment period to say how valuable the club has been for them.
Board members said they were impressed by the club members' efforts.
"A big thank you to the members that stepped up and put the effort into making sure that we had a viable operation out there," board member Andy Dance said. "We thank the county for their input, and recognizing that it's an important facility for the seniors in the county."
Advisory Committee President Doug Courtney told the School Board that the committee has received 501c3 status from the IRS, which may allow it to seek grants, and that it is planning renovations.
"A lot has happened," he said. "We have really expanded and moved things along."
The district has repaired the sauna, the pool is in "excellent shape," and volunteers have helped with repainting and landscaping, he said. There's a new, freshly painted members lounge, and the committee has spent about $5,000 on advertising and plans to spend another $5,000 to raise even more memberships.
Meanwhile, the Advisory Committee has worked out an agreement with the Creation Health program at the Seventh Day Adventist Church to have its 60-70 members use the Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club facility and buy memberships there, Courtney said.
The club is also working on a possible agreement with Florida Health Care, as well as with other organizations whose names Courtney said he couldn't yet publicly divulge.
"So we have a whole pile of things that are going on," Courtney said to the board. "We are really moving along, and we do hope to have your appreciation and your support in our endeavors."
Before the vote, Board Chairwoman Colleen Conklin asked the club members to stand to be recognized.
"I truly applaud each and every one of you because you did it," she said. "Thank you. I really mean that. Thank you for stepping up, getting organized, and energizing your group, and coming up with solutions. ... Your club is about community, and you all have created that community. That's powerful. And I think it's going to grow."