Palm Coast, FL – Hosting a ‘listening session’ on Tuesday evening in the Buddy Taylor Middle School cafeteria, it was a respectful yet passionate gathering of community members who are once again taking up the mantle to see the Belle Terre Swim & Racquet Club become all that it can be.
It’s Dr. Doug Courtney’s fourth time over two decades speaking out and helping to lead the charge for the aging facility that serves both seniors and students alike, and while he’s had his hopes dashed in the past, after hearing from Paul Peacock, Chief Operating Officer for Flagler Schools and Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt during the meeting, he’s cautiously optimistic.
“It provides health benefits, social benefits, psychological benefits, and it’s a beautiful place,” said Courtney. “I would hope that the school board and the community would start to look at it as the asset it is. Yes, it’s aged but at the same time it’s aged gracefully in a lot of ways.”
Engaging elected officials in the past, he’s suggested funds from the county’s senior services help the facility by including a commercial kitchen on the 11 acres and handling the Meals on Wheels program, serving a dual purpose of supplementing the facility and serving the community.
“I would like to see it get to the point where we don’t have to have any of these meetings,” he said. “I feel hopeful. I’ve heard a lot of this four times before. They move the goal post quite a lot. Hopeful, yes. Encouraged, not quite yet.”
Dr. Karyn Phillips, a six year member of the club isn’t ready to put the cart before the horse just yet, and stressed the need to engage grant writers, some of whom were present, to begin shoring up the facility with capital improvements.
“They’re not pursing grants, and there are so many grants out there that would help with schools, with senior citizens, with exercise, with everything, and I didn’t hear that throughout today,” she said. “That’s something I will bring up again and again.”
“I thought it was a good start and I like the fact that there’s one person designed to hear what the community is saying,” said Phillips. “I think to get the community and the school board on the same team would be a wonderful idea. Right now, it’s keeping the pool open, keeping it viable, financially successful and refurbishing it, and then go forward with the rest.”
Calling it a lifeblood for many seniors in the community, Pam Richardson provided a ride to an 88-year old member who frequents the swim club. It’s a staple in her life and Richardson attended to help advocate for her friend.
“This keeps so many people alive and nobody appreciates it that has the authority to make the difference,” said Richardson.
Taking copious notes, Flagler County School Board member Colleen Conklin was also on hand, and Mr. Peacock, who’s been tasked with collecting public feedback about the future of the facility will deliver his report and public comments to the Flagler County School Board on September 21st, for the board’s consideration.
“I really wanted to have an opportunity to hear. I really wanted people to have an opportunity to voice their ideas and concerns. I think we absolutely accomplished that,” said Peacock. “I think because of the aging facility, we can’t continue. We’re now at this point where we can’t keep just putting it off, and wait for somebody else to kick the can down the road. We have to address it because we can’t continue to sustain it in the way that it’s going.”
With three pages of notes, Peacock buoyed by the engagement throughout the evening’s listening session.
“I learned several things – some of the ideas that the community members have are phenomenal,” he said. “In looking for solutions I was never able to hear through just somebody being upset. I feel like we had some really good dialogue and several of the ideas that were put forward, whether it was for funding, for assistance working together, I learned a lot.”
Drawing applause, Superintendent Mittelstadt closed the meeting with calming words couching a dose of reality as she reflected on the district’s deep dive into financial review during her first year as superintendent.
“One of the things that came forward with a big bullseye on it was – this is a jewel of a facility. We’re going to embrace that but most importantly, it’s an aging facility and right now, the way that the financial model exists, the school district is not able to infuse capital expenses to the degree to stand up a quality area for everybody to access,” explained Mittelstadt, who engaged Peacock to lead the data gathering and listening session.
“There’s not a school district across the state that has a site like this, where our community comes to the facility during the day, in the night and on the weekend and stands up all the various programs that we mentioned,” she said. “So our goal is to preserve an opportunity and you to continue to access that building, at the same time make sure our board is aware of any financial opportunities we have to make sure capitally we can stand this facility up to be the top notch facility it deserves to be.”
Among the audience members, Per Berg, an educator at Flagler Palm Coast High School says the sauna and pool help relieve stress on the body from playing basketball while younger. After many years of serving the school district, he’s edging closer to retirement, and looking forward to having the facility as a place to go not just now, but in his own golden years.
“It’s a fantastic facility for me and the hours are great because I can actually get there at 6 o’clock in the morning when the sauna’s open and still be at school by 7:15,” said Berg. “I’m approaching retirement and that’s why I’m here tonight. I want to have this facility here when I retire.”
To provide feedback on the Belle Terre Swim & Racquet Club, residents can download the “Let’s Talk” app in the Google Play Store or App Store or via website.