SARC’s future remains unclear

Board, director make changes to keep facility open through Sept. 2016

Before they consider going back to voters with another levy proposal to keep the facility open, Sequim Aquatic Recreation Center leaders want to see what kind of partnerships they can form.

Unfortunately, SARC board directors say, there is little paperwork to back up talks of partnerships with city, county and the Olympic Peninsula YMCA.

SARC leaders announced a Sept. 30, 2016, closure date for the facility earlier this year. Last week, with a proverbial eye on a possible February 2016 levy proposal, the board of directors brought reports of meetings with various local agencies but no concrete proposals to help secure SARC’s future.

Board director Sherry Nagel said she and fellow board member Gil Goodman met with CEO Kyle Cronk of Olympic Peninsula YMCA — a nonprofit organization that oversees YMCA programs and facilities in Clallam and Jefferson counties — about a possible partnership between the entities.

“They don’t think it will do any harm or jeopardize anything to at least assess if there is a solution,” Nagel said.

The Olympic Peninsula YMCA has a drive to build a full-service aquatic facility in Port Townsend and has a facility on South Francis Street in Port Angeles.

“They have something in Port Townsend and Port Angeles — they would really like to put something together in Sequim,” SARC board president Frank Pickering said.

“We do not have a proposal from them at this point,” Goodman noted. “They just started this process. We will get a commitment from Kyle in the next couple of weeks. I’ve got to see something in writing and have time to study it,” Goodman added.

Goodman noted that he talked with City of Sequim staff about consideration of some sort of “bridge” funding until a proposed city-county Metropolitan Park District could be brought to voters, but that he hadn’t gotten any feedback.

“I’m not sure if they (city officials) have even met as of yet. I don’t think we’re top on anyone’s to-do list,” Goodman said. “They’ve got to put the city and county together. That’s their part. Have we had anything in writing from the city? No.”

Joe Irvin, assistant to the city manager for the City of Sequim, said city staff spoke with officials from SARC, the Shipley Center, the Sequim School District and the Clallam County Parks and Recreation Board about their interest in creating an MPD and also set up meetings with the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Olympic Peninsula and Olympic Medical Center.

After those discussions, Irvin said it’s clear to him there needs to be more discussion and education.

“We’re operating in a manner to see if there’s a consensus,” Irvin said. “We’re asking, ‘Is there a benefit for you in this new taxing district?’ If they don’t see any value, hard to say with confidence it’d pass. For an MPD to be successful, all the entities would need to see a reasonable value to their programs right now to want to participate.”

Board member Jan Richardson said he talked with private citizens who said they were interested in buying it to run a private club, but that they recanted. He also said his sources in the real estate business said the building is worth more razed than it is standing.

Board director Melinda Griffith said there is a nonprofit group forming to help with a solution to SARC’s funding issues, but that it is not fully developed.

Irvin added, “If SARC finds alternative funding, it’s highly unlikely the city would strive to do an MPD anytime soon.”

Keeping the doors open

With reserve funding falling below $200,000 at the end of August, SARC board members, along with executive director Scott Deschenes, agreed on a plan to cut early morning hours that they say will help keep SARC open through its target closing date of Sept. 30, 2016.

The reduced hours not only cut expenses but also allow more time for board members to explore solutions to SARC’s financial difficulties, they said.

“Cutting the early morning sessions was a painful decision, but we felt to extend the life of our organization, we could also serve youth and families between 3-7 p.m.,” the board wrote in an e-mail to facility users. “With our diminishing resources we feel it is the best way to serve the most people.

“We are also able to offer Youth Swim Lessons, Youth Swim Team and support the Sequim High School teams during this window, all programs that we feel are very important to the community. It is difficult to reprogram people’s schedules to make time later in the day for working out, but it can rev up the metabolism and re-energize for the evening or later part of the day.”

Deschenes added, “We’re going to do everything we can to get there (to the final date). There are not a lot of entities that have been through this.”

Officials said SARC has about $193,000 in reserves. Deschenes said the facility was operating at about 42 percent self-sufficiency — funds taken in compared to expenses — in August.

“August is generally a disaster (financially),” Goodman said. “This is a special disaster.”

Despite gaining a majority (57 percent) of ballots, SARC’s Feb. 10 levy proposal failed to pass after falling short of a super majority (60 percent) standard. Needing only a simple majority (50 percent) for approval, a SARC Metropolitan Park District proposal in August failed by a 60-40 margin.

The deadline for a February 2016 special election levy proposal — or a Metropolitan Park District proposal — is Dec. 11.

“It can be very successful if it’s run right,” Goodman said. But, he noted, he wants to have a decision on a possible YMCA partnership before making a decision about the levy.

SARC changes

Board directors agreed with Deschenes’ suggestion to keep corporate discounts — reduced rates for groups that have a certain minimum of people buying annual passes.

Those passes, he noted, are sold as “recurring” annual passes that SARC users wind up paying for on a month-to-month basis.

Classes now will be included in the fees for passes. While the average monthly pass goes up from $32 to $37, Deschenes notes SARC users won’t have to pay for any classes except for programs like swim lessons.

Punch cards only will be sold with 10 passes rather than 20 and SARC will now charge a small extra fee for out-of-district residents.