During the last meeting of Delaware City Council earlier this month, a large contingent of city residents was on hand to express their dissatisfaction with the Delaware Community Center YMCA in regard to its handling of pool availability related to the Force Aquatics Swim Team.
Their concerns have coincided with continued dissatisfaction from city officials over their recreational services partnership. During the Aug. 12 meeting, a “60-day plan” was discussed, intended to address that partnership, and on Monday, Assistant City Manager Kyle Kridler provided an update on what the two sides have been working on since the last update.
Kridler said there have been two areas of focus over the past two weeks. One, he said, has been the partnership itself between the City of Delaware and YMCA. Kridler said the second focal point has been facilities maintenance.
“(Parks and National Resources Director) Ted (Miller) and I can report that the YMCA and the city … are committed to making the partnership a success,” Kridler said, acknowledging the frustration both sides have in regard to the partnership.
Kridler said in order to “frame” exactly what the partnership needs to be, three distinct categories were identified. Those three categories are the services that take place within the Community Center, Mingo Park and Jack Florance Pool, and the recreational services and programming the YMCA organizes for the city.
Specifically, Kridler said the two sides have agreed to focus on member rates for the Delaware YMCA, staffing issues, and the YMCA’s rental policies for outside entities who request pool rental at the Community Center.
The focus on staffing has been necessitated as concerns have arisen over the inadequate number of lifeguards present at Jack Florance Pool for the number of swimmers who use the pool throughout the summer, as well as concerns over the pool not being properly locked and secured at night, presenting a serious safety liability.
The YMCA’s rental policies were in the spotlight during the Aug. 12 meeting when members of the Force Aquatics Swim Team described a refusal by the Community Center to allow them to rent the pool for practices, despite more than adequate notice.
Lori Houck, who is a member of the Force Aquatics executive board, said during that meeting that the team’s request for pool time was denied by the YMCA due to it “not being customary for the YMCA to rent facilities or space to outside entities that operate programs that are being offered by the YMCA.”
Additionally, she said she was told by the YMCA that “we do not rent space to those who seek to conduct a personal business out of the YMCA.”
On Monday, Kridler said the agreement between the city and the YMCA, “as it stands today … the YMCA does not necessarily have to allow outside agencies access to the pool or the facility.”
However, Kridler followed that by saying the city and the YMCA are working “in good faith” to find a solution in regard to availability for outside entities such as Force Aquatics. He said that at the moment, “we have not come to that determination of whether or not the YMCA is able to allow an outside agency into their facility, but from our last conversation, that is something that we are going to have specific conversations around with the hopes to find a solution for the folks that need the space.”
As for the member rates and how they are determined, Kridler said changing the rates specifically for Delaware would also affect every branch within the Central Ohio YMCA.
“We do appreciate that it is a big decision, and it’s a business decision that they have to have some tough conversations about,” Kridler said of the YMCA potentially altering their rates. “But they’ve given us their guarantee that they are having those tough conversations, and they will be bringing a proposal to the table in the near term.”
City Manager Tom Homan cautioned that the situation with Force Aquatics isn’t as simple as making the decision to allow them to use the pool, saying there are members and their rights to the pool that have to be factored in as well.
“It’s not just as simple as, ‘yes, come on in,’” Homan said. “Because you have members there. You need to understand that it can impact those members, and you need to balance that. Any entity running a pool, whether it’s a YMCA or Dublin Community Center, Westerville Community Center, needs to balance the needs of their members and the people who are actually using the facility with the outside groups’ needs as well, and that’s what we’re trying to figure out.”
Homan said there is a meeting Thursday between the two sides that he hopes will provide some type of resolution to the issue.
Tony Collins, the recently appointed CEO of the Central Ohio YMCA, was not present at the Aug. 12 meeting, but he spoke Monday on the organization’s partnership with the city.
Collins said he felt their relationship with the City of Delaware is not one-sided, as was suggested last meeting, and is truly a partnership. He said cities partner with the YMCA all over the country and every partnership is unique.
“With any relationship or any partnership, it takes work,” Collins said. “And sometimes there are highs, and every once in a while there is going to be a low, and we have to work through the low to get to the best place.”
Collins said he looks at those lows as learning opportunities to get better. He went on to say the 60-day plan that was put into place in June was to address the issues related to Jack Florance Pool, and the issues regarding lifeguard shortages and maintenance communication. Collins said they have done well in addressing those issues, and the pool had a successful end to the swimming season.
In regard to membership pricing, Collins said the pricing is determined based on costs and the market. He said the YMCA has looked at Delaware’s rates compared to other cities around central Ohio, such as Dublin, Westerville, and Groveport, and feels the rates are comparable.
However, Collins said they have gone “back to the drawing board” to look at how their pricing is determined as an entire association. He said those solutions are scheduled to be brought to the city in two weeks for discussion and potential approval for its 2020 budget.
As for the Force Aquatics Swim Team and pool rental, Collins said he has called around to several YMCAs around central Ohio, as well as others around the country, and found that none of those associations rent to outside entities other than local high schools.
Collins said there are a number of factors that need to be considered regarding pool rental, such as what types of groups can rent, what the rate structure would look like, if there is a difference between nonprofit and private entities, how those rentals are prioritized compared to members’ pool time, and how that time is budgeted for and staffed properly.
“All of those things are doable … It just takes time to sit down and dig through it and make sure we are all on the same page,” Collins said.
Collins went on to say the pool rental issue is slated for discussion in three weeks, despite Force Aquatic’s season beginning next week.
Councilwoman Lisa Keller, who represents the second ward in which the YMCA is located, said, “I just don’t know what to say anymore. I feel like we need to start talking about it before three weeks.”
Homan said he would ask that Collins bring the discussion on pool rental to the forefront, ahead of the other issues. He reiterated the decision is complicated and needs to be addressed carefully to include all the factors Collins previously mentioned.
“It just seems like we just keep talking about is how complicated the decision is,” Keller said. “But somebody just needs to sit down in a room and say we’re going to iron it out. Instead of talking about how complicated it is, we need to actually get to a solution.”
Currently, the YMCA swim team does not have a head coach, nor does it have an aquatics director. Homan said decisions on pool rental would be difficult to make until those two positions have been filled.
However, Force Aquatics has a team, with a coach, ready to begin its season. Houck reiterated Monday that their team isn’t competing against YMCA programs. She said the YMCA team is scheduled to begin its season soon as well but can’t do so without a coach in place, which is leaving more kids who want to swim high and dry.
Discussions will continue between the city and the YMCA, with updates on those discussions being provided at each council meeting. The next council meeting is scheduled for Monday, Sept. 9.