Rec Center contract debated
BENNINGTON — Membership rate hikes and other issues were raised during a Select Board meeting on a proposed contract for the Berkshire Family YMCA to manage the Bennington Recreation Center.
According to Chairman Donald Campbell, the board will discuss the proposal again during its Oct. 28 meeting and again take public comment. He said the intent is to take a vote on the three-year contract at the session.
With the overall budget for managing the center expected to stay roughly the same as under town management, the focus Monday turned to fee increases for nonresidents and the future of the Bennington Marauders club's Guppies swim lesson programming.
Town Manager Stuart Hurd said that under the proposed contract, the town would pay the YMCA — which has operated the center under a trial basis for the past year — $147,600 annually. He said that would be part of an overall Rec Center budget of $293,500, which is close the town's current budget of $290,170.
"It makes sense, I think, financially for us," Hurd said, "and I think it makes sense from a management perspective."
Under the proposal, the Berkshire YMCA would be a contractor hired by the town, and the center employees would work for the nonprofit organization, which has YMCA facilities in North Adams and Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
The membership rates for Bennington residents for the Rec Center only would stay exactly as they are now, Hurd said, with varying rates for youth, teens, adults to age 61, seniors, senior couples and families.
Currently, a family would continue to pay $108 annually for the Rec Center; an adult, $67; a senior, $62; and a youth or teen, $26.
There could be increases, however, for nonresidents and for those residents who want to have a combination membership with access to all three locations, including the two YMCA sites in Berkshire County. Those sites offer such facilities as racquetball and basketball courts, in addition to swimming and fitness equipment, as well as league play options.
The proposed annual nonresident and resident combination rates include $42 for a youth, $100 for a teen, $252 for a young adult, $528 for an adult to age 61 and $103 for a senior over 62. Family rates listed range from $588 to $1,236, depending on the number of people included, according to a chart provided with the management proposal.
Concerning the sometimes sharply higher rates for nonresidents, one speaker said that, as a resident of Shaftsbury and a swimming team mom and coach, her family's rate would jump from about $100 a year to nearly $600, putting the cost out of reach for her.
"You should keep this a community resource," she said, "and not just for Bennington residents."
Al Bashevkin, of Bennington, said he knows a number of nonresidents who swim at the Rec Center, adding that he'd hate to see some of his friends drop out because of a membership fee hike.
Participation in the swimming program there "has built a community" across town lines, he said.
Campbell and others noted that one solution would be to ask neighboring communities to help support the Bennington center, which is owned and maintained by the town. Such arrangements have been made concerning libraries in neighboring towns, he said.
Board member Chad Gordon said he favors grandfathering the current nonresident rates until a means of keeping those as reasonable as possible can be worked out.
The current nonresident rates for the Rec Center are $92 per year for a youth; $206 for an adult; $275 for a family; $175 for a senior, and $230 for a senior family.
"I really feel it would be great if we could somehow accommodate other people, in the surrounding area, to some extent," said board member Jeanne Conner, referring to Pownal, Shaftsbury and other communities.
Vice Chairwoman Jeannie Jenkins said the board "should really look at the rate structure at the next meeting," and she asked that all the possible rates be made available on a chart.
Staff members also were asked to provide the breakdown is between resident members and nonresidents.
"I think we have to think about this creatively," board member Bruce Lee-Clark said. "I believe we can strike a balance."
Campbell noted that all rates will be set by the Select Board, adding that for those facing an increase, there is the potential for financial aid through the YMCA because it is a nonprofit organization.
Another issue that has surfaced, Hurd said in answer to a question, is that both the YMCA and the Marauders Swim Team, a nonprofit club that leases pool time at the center, offer youth swimming lessons at the center.
In addition, the YMCA requires a second lifeguard when the first person is giving a lesson, while the club uses only one, the swim instructor.
"The Y has a different approach," Hurd said.
He said the town, after preliminary discussions with the club, has asked the Marauders for more detail on why they don't believe a second guard is needed for swim instruction.
Nicole Goswami, the longtime head coach of the Marauders team, said such a requirement could cost the nonprofit an extra $4,000 annually.
She said a lack of certainty about the swim program until an agreement can be reached with the town, the YMCA and the Marauders has made for "an awkward situation; there is a lot of tension . We're not opposed to working together, but it just feels tense right now."
Hurd said he expects discussions to continue on the role of each lessons program, adding that no decisions would be required until next fall.
The only request now on the table, he said, is that the team provide assistance to improve the swim lessons offered by the town, and to be managed by the YMCA.
The Guppies program for young children is one in which parents pay the Marauders to give lessons, Hurd said, "and in some ways it is in conflict with our ability to give swim lessons and generate income for the town."
Campbell told both Goswami and Berkshire YMCA Executive Director Jessie Rumlow that the board supports both programs, and "we would love to see the two come together harmoniously, if that's possible."
Concerning the YMCA management contract, Lee-Clark said he would like to see a dispute resolution clause in the contract, and he and other board members favored a 30-day termination clause, which could be activated by either party. Both the town and the YMCA have tentatively agreed to the latter addition.
Hurd said he would like to see the contract in place by early November for town budget planning reasons.
Under the plan, the Bennington Senior Center building and grounds would remain under ownership and control of the town, and the contracts would have to be renewed annually, with the town setting membership rates.
The town also would receive revenue generated through Rec Center programs overseen by the YMCA, Hurd said, and return the funds to the YMCA as part of the annual contract cost, with any additional funds possibly going to support new programming or facilities or equipment upgrades.
Jim Therrien writes for New England Newspapers in Southern Vermont, including the Bennington Banner, Brattleboro Reformer and Manchester Journal. Twitter: @BB_therrien
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