Ymca Plan Revived

Payson ponders new, slimmed down plan to use park land, town pool as foundation of a recreation center

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Should Payson accommodate growing demand for recreation programs by partnering with the YMCA and saving its cash, going it alone, or just scrap the whole wonderful -- and costly -- idea?

That's the question that confronted a newly elected Payson Council at a joint study session with the Parks and Recreation Commission on Tuesday. After more than two years of fitful and inconclusive negotiations with the YMCA, the council asked to see a proposed agreement at it's June 19 meeting.

"We are not going to drag this out and we don't need another 10 meetings," said Mayor Kenny Evans, in pushing the staff negotiating team to come up with a plan the council could vote on within the next few weeks.

The council Thursday heard pitches for two starkly different solutions to recreation programs that have outstripped the capacity of the summer-only uncovered town swimming pool and the school gyms the town uses for various programs.

Both of the proposals would build a major new recreation center next to Taylor Pool in Rumsey Park -- but the details of the competing proposal differed sharply.

YMCA officials offered a new, slimmed down version of a $5.6-million plan that has been batted back and forth for more than two years. That plan calls for a 6,500 square foot gym, converting Taylor Pool to a covered, year-round facility and adding a fitness center, a play pool, teen facilities and a rock climbing wall and other extras designed to lure members willing to pay $55 to $75 a month.

The negotiations with the YMCA had been stalled on several key points, including the previous town council's insistence on controlling the facility perhaps 40 percent of the time and providing a 10,000-square-foot gym that could accommodate basketball, volleyball and badminton games at the same time. The YMCA's proposal on Thursday featured a smaller gym and little or no town management of the facility. The YMCA would give Payson residents a discount and continue to hold open swim hours in the summer at a minimal cost to Payson residents.

On the other hand, Recreation Director Rick Manchester suggested that the town might be able to finance its own, $12-million facility on the same site. But instead of the fitness center proposed by the YMCA, the alternate plan would include both a pool big enough for competitions and swim teams, a covered year-round play pool and a 10,000-square-foot gym that could accommodate leagues and recreation programs.

Manchester said the town could cover half the cost with grants and matching funds, but would have to cover $600,000 annual operating costs. He said several businesses and individuals have expressed interest in helping finance such a plan.

The council seemed skeptical about coming up with the money for such a plan, especially in the face of a drop in fees and sales tax that could force a 8-15 percent budget cut in the coming fiscal year.

Several council and recreation commission members praised the YMCA proposal, although the plan featured smaller facilities and less town control than previous plans.

Recreation commission member Rory Huff said the town has stalled too long already. "We've got a gift horse here and we're kicking it in the mouth. This community would be way better off with a YMCA."

"I'm 100 percent for the YMCA," said Vice Mayor Su Connell, "which will benefit Payson -- not just for the youth, but for seniors as well. So I'm totally in favor of it."

Recreation commission chairman Bruce Wilson said "I agree 100 percent -- an indoor (pool) facility for our kids is so very, very, very badly needed."

The meeting laid the ground work for renewed negotiations and a quick council decision on whether to give the YMCA a signed lease for the five acres it needs to launch a fund-raising drive, with the help of the members of the Payson Friends of Parks and Recreation.

YMCA Executive Vice President George Scobas said the group already has a promise of $1 million from a Valley organization and has had discussions with donors who could provide several million more.

That donated money would underwrite the YMCA proposal to remodel and enclose Taylor Pool at a cost of about $750,000. Critical to the YMCA's proposal are features like a fitness gym, a covered play pool and a rock climbing wall, which could attract people willing to pay the $55 to $75 monthly membership charge.

In return for the use of the land and perhaps $95,000 in annual operating costs from the town, the YMCA would discount memberships for Payson residents, provide money to pay the fees for qualified low-income residents, continue existing public pool hours for Payson residents and host some town recreation events at little or no cost.

Scobas parried questions about whether the project could provide a gym big enough to accommodate programs like the town's basketball league, saying a survey of town residents and revenue projections suggested that the YMCA couldn't make a go economically with a larger facility -- especially if it came at the cost of features that attract members like the fitness center.

"We don't want to lose money and you don't want us to lose money," said Scobas. He estimated that operating costs would total about $1.5 million annually and noted that a similar sized facility in Mesa had seven full-time and 107 part time employees.

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