Ymca Plan Questioned

Citizens' group debates partnership to provide year-round pool, gym

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Payson's plans to partner with the YMCA to run a town pool and help raise money to build a major new swim and gym complex drew a vigorous mix of support and skepticism this week at a meeting sponsored by the Citizens Awareness Committee.

Friends of Parks and Recreation spokesman Bill Ensign faced an interested but skeptical crowd at the Payson Library Monday, Jan. 14, as he tried to explain the details of the proposed partnership.

The long-debated plan would turn over the aging, town-owned Tyler Pool to the YMCA, which would raise $5-$6 million to turn the pool into a covered, year-round facility and build an adjacent gymnasium. The facilities would be open year-round to members of the YMCA paying an estimated $50 per family per month and to Payson citizens based on some kind of time-sharing arrangement.

If the town negotiated a deal to claim 40 percent of the operating hours of the complex, it would cost about $28,000 per year over and above the $162,000 the town now spends to operate the swimming pool during the summer months. That would open the pool to the community 40 percent of the time, with the YMCA providing the management of the facility plus marketing to attract users. If the town settled for 30 percent of the available hours, residents could make use of both the pool and the gym several days a week for about $13,000 less than it now costs to operate the pool alone in the summer.

Under questioning by the audience, Ensign said many of the details of the agreement are still being negotiated.

But as one audience member pointed out, the town-operated swimming pool currently spends about $3 for every $1 it takes in. "Anyone can run a better operation than that."

Some of the most pointed questions focused on a large, heated, enclosed pool and gymnasium operated by the tribe next to the casino. That facility has a pool that's about five yards short of Olympic dimensions, a weight room, a locker room and a gym -- all available to community use for a $40 per family monthly membership fee -- about the same as the cost of a YMCA membership.

"The casino has an Olympic-sized pool and wellness center already running -- with hardly anyone in it," said Shanon Strople. "Are we, as a town, trying to bite off more than we can chew? Will it be like the batting cages" provided by the town to provide activities for kids which now get only light use? she asked.

"If you could work with the Indians, you wouldn't have to raise $6 million," said another citizen.

Councilman Ed Blair, who attended the citizen's forum, said he had originally favored rejecting the YMCA deal in favor of working out something with the tribe, but had changed his mind.

He said through a design mistake, the pool at the tribal facilities was only 20 yards long, five yards less than an Olympic-sized pool. Moreover, he said people had complained to him that it was too warm to swim laps comfortably in the tribe pool.

Other audience members raised questions about liability, how pool managers will manage the split hours of use, whether the pool and gym complex will affect the nearby dog park and whether a town the size of Payson could raise the $6 million or provide enough users to take full advantage of such a facility.

However, Ensign strongly supported the partnership with the YMCA, suggesting that the town would get a year-round pool and a state-of-the-art gym near the planned, expanded event center at a bargain price.

Moreover, the partnership with the YMCA would provide the marketing and management expertise to make sure the facilities attracted as many people as possible and didn't become a drain on the town's budget.

He noted that the YMCA operates hundreds of pool and recreational complexes in towns the size of Payson, all of them self-supporting.

"The YMCA comes with a whole team to promote it," said Ensign. "The town will end up with a covered pool and facilities it doesn't have anywhere now, at a bargain price."

He said the partnership will help underwrite urgently needed recreation facilities.

"I'm excited about getting the Y going and having the opportunity to go out and raise money to contribute."

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