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July 10, 2007

City Council discusses YMCA, Boys and Girls Club partnerships

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2007070903 Charlottesville will expand its partnership with the Boys and Girls Club, but has postponed a decision whether to begin a new relationship with the Piedmont YMCA. The items were discussed during a City Council work session held on July 9, 2007, at the Key Recreation Center.

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20070709-CC-Worksession-YMCA.mp3

Mike Svetz, Director of the City Parks and Recreation Department, described the meeting as a way to seek direction from Council on partnerships that would "enhance and not replace services within the community.” At issue is what the City should do with two pools - one at the Smith Center at Buford School, and the Crow pool. Svetz said a needs assessment performed in 2005 found that both needed major renovations.

During the meeting, Svetz named key decisions he wanted Council to make. The first dealt with the overall direction of the Parks and Recreation Department and read:

“Does the city guarantee the commitment of resources to the Charlottesville Parks and Recreation Department for the expansion and improvement of programs and outreach activities within public housing sites, neighborhood parks/centers and schools?"

After a small discussion, Council reaffirmed their commitment to a neighborhood center model of supporting the parks and recreation department. But Councilor Julian Taliaferro wanted more information on what exactly needed to be improved.

"How much money are we talking to do exactly what?" he asked.

Councilor Dave Norris, a proponent of a partnership with the Piedmont YMCA, said he understood that many people in the community are concerned that increased partnerships will result in the city scaling back its commitment to neighborhood-based programs. He said any money spent by the Boys and Girls Club or the YMCA would free up resources within the Parks and Recreation Department to be reinvested elsewhere in the system.2007070901_2

"I think it's very important that council go on record, even if we don't know the details yet, and say we are going to actively seek to enhance and expand those programs in the years ahead,” Norris said.

Mayor David Brown wanted to know if expanded partnerships with the YMCA and the Boys and Girls Club would come with continuing expenditures in the years to come.  Tom Jones of the Boys and Girl Club said the organization will spend $100,000,000 over the next several decades running its center.  Kirk Krueger with the Piedmont YMCA said his only organization would only seek money for capital costs.

Before moving on to the specifics of the two partnerships, Councilor Kevin Lynch suggested taking half of any next year's budget surplus towards capital improvement projects for parks and recreation. Councilor Kendra Hamilton said Council has other needs that are more pressing.

Since 2003, The Boys and Girls Club has operated  programs at the Smith Pool Center at Buford School, but now needs more space. They want to expand the partnership and coordinate with the city on a construction project to replace the Center. But, the extent of the partnership needed to be determined.
"Any decision that we make in the near term with the Smith Center and pool site obviously impacts them from a construction standpoint,” said Svetz.

Smithcenter Tim Sinatra, Executive Director of the Boys and Girls Club, briefed council on his organization. He said his organization serves primarily minorities, and offers a consistent place for youth to go to stay out of trouble. But, Sinatra said the club needs more room to expand its youth development services.

"We've had waiting lists every summer, and have had to turn away sixty to seventy families," he said. This summer, the Club has enrolled 150 children, and Sinatra said that's about sixty too many. The new building will cost at least $10,000,000 and will be built at the existing Smith Center, and will be designed to serve over 400 kids a day, with a dedicated wing that will strictly be for teenagers. In exchange for an enhanced partnership, the city Parks and Recreation Department would be able to use some of the new rooms for its programs. While the new facility is currently being designed, Sinatra says it will be between 25,000 and 30,000 square feet, and may or may not include a replacement pool. That will depend on what the city wants to do.

The Club will have a schematic of the drawing by the end of August. At the work-session, Boys and Girls Board Member Tom Jones said the Club isn't looking for any specific yet in its expansion of a partnership.

"Are there ways that together we can do things intelligently and quickly that will expand the services?" he asked. He also said the sooner the city makes a decision on what to do about Smith Pool, the sooner the Boys and Girls Club can fully design their new facility. The architect W.G. Clark will have a schematic of a drawing by the end of August. Mike Svetz with Parks and Recreation has recommended expanding the partnership and replacing Smith pool. He said that would cost about $2 million to repair and renovated Smith.

Council held a long discussion about what kind of pool should be built at Smith. Should it be targeted as a recreational pool, or should it be built for competitive swimmers? This issue came up again later in the evening when the YMCA was discussed. But Councilor Lynch wondered if Council should approve the construction of two indoor pools.

"I would like to see us consolidate [Smith and Crow pools] which would give us substantial savings in operating over the next twenty-five years," Lynch said.

Before a long-term decision is made on the future of the two pools, Council agreed they were not willing to commit money to renovate the locker rooms at either one. Svetz had put the price tag on such renovations at $565,000. Council also said they wanted to see more details on the Boys and Girls Club facility before deciding on whether to put a pool there.

Council then moved on to discuss the YMCA proposal. The Piedmont YMCA has designed a 75,000 square foot facility to be built in McIntire Park West adjacent to Charlottesville High School. The building would be built where picnic shelters currently stand.

Ymca Kirk Krueger, Chair of the Piedmont YMCA’s Board of Directors, said the new facility will cost $14 million.  The YMCA is conducting a capital campaign to raise $10 million, has received a pledge of $2 million from Albemarle County, and plans to ask Charlottesville for an additional $2 million. Krueger said the YMCA would never come back to the city for additional funds, and the land would revert back to the city after a 40-year ground lease. A new facility would be open 7 days a week, and would consolidate 23 of the Piedmont YMCA’s current sites at which it operates basketball and other youth programs.

So far, Krueger said the YMCA has raised a little over $7 million, and wants an answer from the city as quickly as possible. There's a September 30 deadline to enter into a ground lease in order to qualify for the terms of $300,000 grant from the Perry Foundation. Also, Piedmont Virginia Community College has offered land at its campus in Albemarle County for the YMCA.

"What we ultimately want is for the city to commit to us to at least conceptually agree to partner with the Y at the McIntire Park site," Krueger said.

When asked by Councilor Kendra Hamilton if the $2 million the YMCA wants from the City included land, Krueger replied that it did not. Councilor Lynch responded that many outside groups tend to see city parkland as surplus land waiting to be used.

"And, it's not. If we use four acres of parkland for [the YMCA] where do we get the extra four acres of parkland? Four acres of parkland is probably worth more than two million,” said Lynch.  Mike Svetz said the assessed value of the property is about $60,000 an acre, prompting Lynch to joke that he would immediately write Svetz a check for $240,000.

Mayor Brown told the audience he is warming to the idea of the YMCA in McIntire Park, but said it was unfair for the city to have to pay the same matching amount as the county when it would be giving up some of its parkland. "I wouldn't mind seeing Albemarle County take on more responsibility for providing softball facilities to the region, allowing us to reprogram the rest of the land in McIntire Park in a way that serves city youth more than softball fields do," he said. Brown also said he wanted the Y's Board of Directors to have a proportionate number of city residents serving as members.

2007070902Councilor Hamilton said many of the people who have told her of their opposition to the Y proposal say they just don't want parkland to be used, and that many others are concerned this will lead to the privatization of the Parks and Recreation Department. She said she would only be prepared to proceed if she could get certain guarantees from the Y, mostly that any city money freed up by the Y operating aquatic programs would go towards other parks and recreation programs run by the city.

Councilor Lynch said that he remained interested in the plan, but needed to see more proof that the neighborhood centers would continue to be developed. More importantly, he said the city has to continue the philosophical debate about the direction of the Parks and Recreation department.

"If the Y wants to see a decision by the end of September, I want to see details fleshed out in terms of what does that mean for programming," Lynch said. "What does that mean for the existing cooperation with the Boys and Club, and what does that mean for the picnic shelters?"

Svetz wrapped up the discussion by asking if he could enter into the process of entering into the ground lease with the Y. None of the councilors except Norris said they were willing to do so at this time, but would revisit the issue at a further work session or council meeting in early September. Hamilton suggested holding a closed session to discuss the negotiations, something City Manager Gary O'Connell said would not be allowed.

Council ended the meeting by agreeing to operate Crow and Smith Pools for the time being while details are worked out regarding their respective futures. Additionally, Council will defer action on a new partnership with the YMCA until it can see more details on the deal, which Svetz says will be ready by early September.

Timeline of meeting:

01:00 - Mike Svetz, Charlottesville Director of Parks and Recreation
12:45 - Council considers direction of Parks and Recreation Department
24:36 - Council considers expansion of Boys and Girls Club partnership
26:26 - Tim Sinatra, Executive Director, Boys and Girls Club
33:00 - Tom Jones, Boys and Girls Club, talking about the design for the new facilty at Smith Center.
38:00 - Architect W.G. Clark, talking about how his design will improve the Boys and Girls Club
46:11 - Mike Svetz introduces Council discussion on Boys and Girls Club
1:13:06 - Mike Svetz introduces Council discussion on YMCA Piedmont
1:14:00 - Kirk Krueger, Piedmont YMCA
1:23:37 - Council discusses Piedmont YMCA proposal

Sean Tubbs


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