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A Better Option for the Community Center

I was recently asked, “What is the most important feature of a Community Center?”  I pondered the question for a brief moment then responded, “The answer is quite simple.  The most important feature is the Community itself.”  I’m guessing there must be hundreds or thousands of Community Centers across the Country.  I’m certain, none of them are the same, nor do they provide the same services to the community.  The success of a Community Center is not guaranteed by simply allowing an organization to duplicate its plan into our community.

Why am I bringing this up?  As you read this, our county is rapidly heading toward allowing the YMCA to operate our Community Center.  If that is all you heard about this proposal, you might think that’s a great idea.  I think most of us can agree that the YMCA is a first class organization that brings value to the community.  The purpose of this letter is not to bash the YMCA, because I truly do respect the organization, but I feel compelled to make sure that our citizens are given the complete picture.

Let’s start by discussing the proposed agreement with the YMCA.  Our Community Center was purchased with 1.4 million tax payer’s dollars.  We are currently in the process of spending nearly $400,000 to build a third building on the property.  By a 3 to 2 vote of the Board of County Commissioners, an additional $250,000 is proposed to be spent on the third building.  The agreement will then require us to turn over control of this $2,000,000 facility to the YMCA.  The YMCA will not be required to pay rent, nor will they be required to pay for major maintenance on the facilities.  Wakulla County will pay for all utilities and we will even mow the grass and maintain the grounds.

After using millions of tax payer’s dollars to ensure the YMCA’s success, they will then be allowed to compete with local companies who offer similar services to our community already, such as fitness centers, gymnastics, martial arts etc.

Is this the best deal we can put on the table for our citizens.  I say no and would like to offer up a better option.  I would like to see us bring together the best community programs that already exist in our county.  By doing this we have an opportunity to build upon and improve programs that are already serving our community well.  First I would bring our 4H clubs, Extension programs, Parks and Recreation together in the community center.  Each of these programs has a proven track record of serving our community.  I believe we are making a mistake if we fail to recognize the value these programs add to the lives of our children.  I also believe we are making a mistake if we turn over a $2,000,000 facility to an organization that will then compete for a share of our family’s budgets.  According to the plan, the YMCA will not open in Wakulla County until they pre-sale 350 memberships.  Memberships will range from $240 annually for college students to $780 annually for families.  This could pull $100,000 to $200,000 annually out of our family budgets.  With the limited resources available to most families today, I believe our 4H and Recreation programs will be financially impacted, if the YMCA is successful at selling their targeted memberships.  This will be a dis-service to our own County programs and the employees who work so hard to serve our Community.

Next, I would reach out to the 21st Century Learning Center that is already providing a great service to our community.  In case you aren’t familiar with this program, allow me to tell you a little bit about it.  Wakulla Springs Baptist Church applied for and received a grant from the Florida Department of Education to bring the program to Wakulla County.  It’s an Educational Enrichment program for pre-K through 8th grade students.  The program is offered 5 days a week, after school.  It is currently providing FCAT Review in Reading, Writing, Science & Math, Dance, Daily Homework Center, Martial Arts, Tutoring, Theatre, Project Based Learning, 4H, Character Education, Music Lessons, Community Service Projects, Games and Physical Education.  The grant provides funding to cover all operational costs of the program.  Families do not pay for their children to participate.  The grant provides funding to pay for bus transportation from all Wakulla Schools to ensure that every child is able to participate.  Most of the money received through this grant goes directly back into our Community through additional income paid to teachers and bus drivers who work in the program after school.  The part time employees benefit from additional income to their household, students benefit from the additional educational opportunity, and our community benefits from the service this program provides.  Currently, the program is bringing approximately $400,000 into Wakulla County.  It was awarded with the capacity to give $1,000,000 annually for 5 years.  The program currently has approximately 150 children enrolled with 100 more on a waiting list.  The current facility is at maximum capacity, unable to accept any more children, and unable to utilize the remaining $600,000 available from the grant.  This presents an awesome opportunity to expand this successful program into our community center.  The funding is in place, the children who wish to participate are in place, we simply need to provide a facility.  The grant would even pay the cost of utilities, further saving tax payer’s dollars.  I believe we owe it to our Community to fully explore this option.  We can have a community center.  We can operate a Community center that will not hurt local businesses and other County programs.  We can be wise guardians of tax payer’s dollars and facilities.  I hope you will join me in support of this proposal.  I encourage you to contact all Commissioners and let us know how you feel.  You can email us here http://mywakulla.com/Commissioners/default.asp

4 Responses to “A Better Option for the Community Center”

  1. Pat White says:

    Thank you Ralph for giving us an alternative to think about. I did not like the idea about the YMCA from the start. It seems to me we are giving YMCA everything and they are PROFITING from it. I agree with you on the other options. I think it would help our community much more than the first option.
    Thanks for doing all you do. We appreciate your dedication and fresh new ideas.
    Pat

  2. Mary Walsh says:

    Thank you Ralph for a better option. I agree with your option. It makes more sense as it truly will be serving our community, available to all and will be what I think everyone wants and thinks they are getting.

  3. sue says:

    The YMCA is not the only management entity out there. We should explore other possibilities as well. Maybe hire an administrator or make the Community Center part of Parks and rec so that the building and the $$ stays in the county. Also, the grant $$ is only for 8th graders and younger, so I can see a lot of problems in the future. We need activities for all citizens. Think about getting other bids if you are not happy with what the Y is offering. Please don’t stop the momentum that you have started and fulfill the promise to serve all citizens in this county.

  4. Terri jay says:

    Wow, great explanation. I’m a big fan of the Y but our county could benefit so much more by keeping it local. Bring in the locales and expand the services at a reduced price. Great idea Ralph. Thanks

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