- July 24, 2022
A parade of Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club members marched before the Flagler County School Board on Tuesday, May 16, imploring board members to give their club another chance.
Hours later, after getting what they wanted, they walked away quietly, pondering what had just taken place.
The meeting was supposed to finally decide the fate of the school district’s facility. But it didn’t do that. In the end, board members voted 3-2 to hold onto the club’s current membership model with the promise that assessments will be made in the months ahead. Will Furry and Sally Hunt voted against the motion.
After Colleen Conklin made the motion to continue the club’s operations as a membership facility, Christy Chong said she would be willing to give the club a year and see if it could attract new members through renewed marketing to cut down an operating loss that the district estimates to be as high as $177,803.
Chong suggested setting an expiration date. If the losses weren’t reined in by that date, the board would shift to a student-focused facility for the pool, shutting down the gym and ending memberships.
Furry, who has argued that it’s time for the school district to get out of the membership business, said he would support a deadline if he could see a light at the end of the tunnel.
“Ultimately, if we’re going to do something, I want it to succeed, right?” he said.
In addition to marketing the facility and raising rates, Furry suggested adding a fee for those who have access to the club through health and fitness plans such as Silver Sneakers or other insurance plans.
“I honestly believe that is what’s cannibalizing our membership,” he said. “Unless we start getting more revenue out of the insurance numbers, I just don’t see a path to success here.”
Conklin made several suggestions, including returning the club under the Flagler Technical College umbrella where its losses could be absorbed.
“I worry we’re throwing the baby out with the bath water,” she said. “I truly believe it can break even.”
I honestly believe that is what’s cannibalizing our membership. Unless we start getting more revenue out of the insurance numbers, I just don’t see a path to success here.” — WILL FURRY
During public comment at both the board’s workshop and business meeting, several senior citizens who are club members, shared how they rely on the club for health reasons. County Commissioner Leann Pennington was among the speakers, reproaching the new board members for not coming up with a plan to satisfy members.
“We all ran together for these seats,” she said. “I told people who voted for me to vote for you because I told them we are the people of change. Now I’m trying to figure out what’s changed, because this is a community issue.”
She said they shouldn’t close the pool to individual use until a plan is in place.
Hunt worried that the board is spending too much time discussing an aquatic facility, taking time away from issues that directly affect schools such as safety, graduation rates or an alternative school model.
“We’re not in the recreation business,” she said.
Yet, later she floated the possibility of tabling the issue so the new superintendent, whom the board hopes to hire by Jan. 1, can weigh in.
Board Chair Cheryl Massaro suggested a deadline of September 2024 for increasing memberships and decreasing losses. The date was changed to December 2024.
“I don’t love December 2024,” Hunt said noting that profits from the extended day program are offsetting the club’s losses, and they could be used instead to pay for improvements to extended day. She suggested July of next year to review progress.
Furry was also not happy with a December 2024 date. He said he thought they were discussing December 2023. He recommended voting on Conklin’s motion to continue Belle Terre as a membership facility with assessments to be made in upcoming months. Massaro and Chong joined Conklin in supporting the motion.