Conversations on the partnership between the City of Delaware and the YMCA of Central Ohio are ongoing, and an update on the status of their recreation service agreement and other issues was given at Monday’s Delaware City Council meeting. Council and the YMCA first discussed their management agreement publicly during a council meeting on July 11 after an influx of concerns had been raised in regard to the YMCA’s handling of recreational services in the city.
In 2012, the City of Delaware and the YMCA entered into a management agreement for recreational services. Among the services included in the agreement are the operation of the Jack Florance Pool at Mingo Park, youth and adult sports leagues, and various events such as Harmony in the Park, the Easter egg hunt, the Pumpkin Run and Walk, and more.
Among the concerns has been the lack of lifeguards at the Jack Florance Pool, which, in turn, affects the allowed capacity in the pool. There is a 1:25 ratio of lifeguards to patrons, which is standard for pools.
Issues with the pool not being secured, and non-YMCA staff being left to secure the pool in the evening, have also been raised.
During last month’s discussion, then-City Manager Jackie Walker said there had also been issues with how the chemicals and resolution testing for the pool water was being documented, which she noted has also been flagged by the health department. Lack of reports, which she said are important to Parks and National Resources Director Ted Miller and his staff to stay on top of things, has also been problematic.
While the issues with recreation services have become increasingly common, a feud between the YMCA and the Force Aquatics Swim Team, a competitive swim club representing Delaware County and governed by USA Swimming, has been ongoing since the winter.
A slew of residents were on hand Monday to listen to the discussion, many of whom were parents and athletes associated with the Force Aquatics Swim Team. Lori Houck, who is a member of the Force Aquatics executive board, opened up the discussion, speaking on behalf of those in attendance from the swim club.
Houck said the team was not created as competition to the YMCA’s Riptide swim team, but rather it was “created due to the failure of the Delaware YMCA to appropriately offer services for the competitive swim community.” Houck questioned Force Aquatics’ lack of access to the Delaware Community Center pool, which was constructed following the raising of Delaware’s tax rate in 2008.
“The YMCA has stated it is unable to commit to allowing access to (swim) lanes at the very facility that was built by the citizens we serve,” Houck stated. “As a result, we continue to ask why the city’s partner cannot rent to Force Aquatics considering they have previously rented to Olentangy High School, Buckeye Valley High School, and even DARTS.”
Houk said her request to rent the pool time last month was denied more than three weeks following the submission of the request. The YMCA’s reasoning, Houck said, was 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.”
Houk said the Force Aquatics team has been able to secure pool time in Lewis Center and Westerville. However, she said the swim club has been forced to turn away many swimmers due to “lane constraints.”
“We now have a situation where a large and growing number of people in our very community believe the YMCA is not capable of meeting the competitive swimmer’s needs, thus leaving the YMCA swim program and commuting to outside entities that can fill their needs,” Houck went on to say. “The question needs to be answered to as why a city this size is not offering an open USA Swimming format like many of the surrounding cities. Cities like Westerville, Worthington, Upper Arlington, Dublin, Gahanna, Powell, Hilliard, there are multiple teams within Columbus, and the list goes on and on.
“Why is it that the partner who is charged with running the city’s recreation services is not offering this to our community members? This is a great disservice to our children. The YMCA has been allowed to define competitive swimming for this community in a way that limits growth and potential and future possibilities, including scholarships for our kids.”
Following Houck’s comments, Councilwoman Lisa Keller spoke of a “60-day plan” that had recently been created by the two sides to address the issues. However, Keller said she was disappointed by the plan and felt it wouldn’t produce changes quickly enough.
Specifically, Keller said many constituents have complained of the increasingly high prices for memberships at the YMCA. Keller said she approached the YMCA about its pricing model in January and it wasn’t until this month that she finally received an answer, one in which she called “shocking.”
The formula for determining membership rates, Keller said, includes both the average income of the city of Delaware and the average income in the entire county, despite the fact it was city residents who paid for the building’s construction and not anyone else in the county. The formula also includes a factor of what percentage the YMCA feels the residents should be able to pay, Keller said.
Residents are also supposed to receive a credit on their membership, although Keller said she has received complaints of residents not receiving that credit.
“(The YMCA) gives us a 10 percent credit for building a free building,” Keller said. “And for that opportunity, we pay the very highest rates in all of central Ohio. That is unacceptable. That is part of this 60-day plan. That has to change and that has to change immediately.”
Keller said she has contacted officials in Huber Heights, which has a similar agreement with their YMCA and is considering pulling back on their agreement. She said her impression from speaking with those officials was that all of the issues Delaware residents are experiencing are the same things Huber Heights has experienced with their YMCA.
“We have 100 percent of the accountability and no ability to act on or change anything that is happening with the YMCA,” Keller said. “And we’ve been in meetings (with the YMCA) and still don’t have the ability because they still won’t do some of the things we’re asking them to do.”
Addressing the situation with the Force Aquatics Swim Team, Keller said, “We’re here in this situation today because the YMCA failed to take care of this group and these kids when they were at the Delaware YMCA … I want the YMCA to fix this problem, and fix the problem for these kids so that they have somewhere to swim come November.
“This is the community center that this city built. This is our building, this is not the YMCA’s building. Recreation services is the City of Delaware’s, not the YMCA’s. And I don’t know how we’ve crisscrossed responsibilities, but it needs to change. And more needs to happen than a 60-day plan.”
Keller’s recommendation was to take back control of the recreation services and the Mingo pool, saying she didn’t think the city should go through another summer of dealing with those issues. She added that would also allow the 60-day plan to focus solely on the issues at the Community Center.
Councilman George Hellinger agreed that the Jack Florance Pool needs to be taken back by the city. As for recreation services, he said it wouldn’t be feasible for the city to take back full control of those programs for next year, but he also wouldn’t support the current recreation services agreement with the YMCA next year for anything other than a transition to the city taking back control of the programs as they figure out what to offer moving forward.
“I don’t see how we can salvage much of our relationship (with the YMCA) without a major reset,” Hellinger went on to say.
Keller pointed out there are wonderful people and programs at the YMCA every day and that these issues were more centered around its overall leadership and management.
Lolita Haverlock, who is the regional vice president for the Central Ohio YMCA, said her role during the meeting was to listen to all of the feedback and relay those comments and concerns to Tony Collins, the recently-appointed CEO for the Central Ohio YMCA. Both are roughly two months into their roles.
Haverlock said their goal is to mend the relationship between the YMCA and Delaware. In regard to the 60-day plan, she said the goal was to set up a communication plan to manage the “crisis” through the rest of the year while long-term solutions could be developed.
Following Haverlock’s response on everything she had heard during the meeting, Mayor Carolyn Riggle pointed out Haverlock failed to mention a single thought on the Force Aquatic Swim Team and their ongoing issues with the Community Center.
While all the conversation and suggestions may appear productive on the surface, Keller said the relationship between the city and the YMCA is as anything but a partnership, referring to it as a “parent, child relationship.”
“We’re the child begging the parent to please change their mind, to please reconsider this,” Keller said. “The decision isn’t being made by two equals in the same room at the same time. They’re making the decision and informing us of it, and then we have to go back and say, ‘That’s not satisfying the people we represent, will you please, will you please (change it).’”
The consensus among council members was that Jack Florance Pool needs to be brought back into the city’s control ahead of next year, while there is still much discussion and consideration that would go into the city also taking back recreation services.
As for the Force Aquatic Swim Team, all of council agreed their access, or lack thereof, to the Community Center is a baffling situation and an immediate priority as conversations between the city and the YMCA continue.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.