Flagler Schools will not sell or lease out the Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club, School Board members decided in a board workshop June 15.
That left two options: Convert the popular club facility into a K-20 facility — potentially with facility-use agreements that would let other community groups use the club — or continue operating the property without major changes.
"We want to have a facility that's going to meet the needs of our community. ... That's not just our K-12 kids: It’s everybody."
— CHERYL MASSARO, School Board member
The school district has puzzled over how to handle the property for years. Granted to the school district in 1999 when Palm Coast incorporated as a city, the 1979 facility operates at a deficit and needs costly capital improvements.
Although it has a base of enthusiastic members that pay to use its gym and pool, the memberships — about 200 of them, at $225 each per year — don’t bring in nearly enough money to maintain the property and provide the needed renovations. A district staff member said that, at the district’s current membership numbers, the fee would have to rise to $1,033 per year to cover the facility’s costs — much more than comparable facilities elsewhere.
If the district raised the price to $375 per year to match other facilities that have a gym and pool, it would need about 530 members, she said.
Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt presented the four options to the board during the workshop, noting as she did so that selling the property seemed unwise: The land is centrally located, and the community is growing and might need to use it to support school-related programs.
She said “it would not be in the best interests of the school district” to sell it.
If the district wants to sell off some district property, she said, there are other parcels that would be better for that.
Board members agreed that they didn’t favor a sale.
As for leasing, Mittelstadt said, “A lease has its own set of complexities.”
The entity that leased the property would have to be a 501c3 nonprofit, and a lease wouldn’t resolve the issue of who would pay for capital improvements.
“We had a couple discussions that just did not go anywhere with people who said they might be interested,” she said.
Board members didn’t favor leasing either.
Mittelstadt was interested in Option 3 — making the facility a K-12 school-use property by shifting other school-based programs to the property.
“This would give us the ability over the course of the next school year to look at a couple programs that could really benefit from that location that are K-12 driven,” she said.
The district, she said, is looking at the possibility of adding some portables at the property and using the facility for its TRAILS program, a vocational education program for students with disabilities.
“Then we could look to expand those programs, diversity what we’re doing,” she said.
The district could still allow some community use of the pool and gym. But instead of the district handling the memberships and community attendance itself, an outside organization would have to take over that function, requesting the use of the property and paying a set price based on a district rate schedule, much as community groups sometimes request the use of school auditoriums.
Board members Colleen Conklin and Cheryl Massaro were interested in that possibility, and Massaro said she’d like to learn more about how that would affect community use of the pool.
“We want to have a facility that’s going to meet the needs of our community,” Massaro said. “That’s not just our K-12 kids: It’s everybody.”
She added that she’d like to see all K-12 students in Flagler County receive swimming lessons.
There are potential downsides of such a shift for the club’s current adult users: Accessibility might change, as the district would have to create what Mittelstadt referred to as a “building envelope” around the facility, for safety reasons, while district students were there.
Conklin suggested the school district make a formal request to the city of Palm Coast government to match the county government’s current annual $25,000 donation supporting the facility. Palm Coast has its own pool, but closes it in winter.
Board member Trevor Tucker proposed surveying the club’s current membership to see how much members might be willing to pay. The board decided to do so, and also directed Mittelstadt to approach the city of Palm Coast and to further investigate the details of making the property a K-12 facility.