MANATEE — The YMCA has moved out of the county-owned building housing its former South Branch, citing its too-small size and more than $1 million worth of repairs the facility needs.
“It’s a maintenance nightmare,” said Sean Allison, YMCA president and chief executive officer, in an interview Thursday. “It’ll be better for the kids.”
The branch has been renamed “South Manatee County Y,” and most of its programs have already been shifted to other places, such as schools and churches, said Allison.
“We’ve moved our indoor recreation programs and staff to Harllee Middle School,” said Allison. “It’s a double gym, twice the size of South Branch, tons of parking, wood floors, and it’s closer to the population of kids we want to be serving.”
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Then, too, the YMCA’s five-year strategic plan calls for new YMCA facilities to be built in Palmetto, and hopefully, one in south Manatee County, too, Allison said.
In the meantime, Y officials want to expand their offerings for south county residents across several venues, he said.
Financial disagreements doomed lease negotiations between the YMCA and the county over the property at 3675 53rd Ave. E., also known as John H. Marble Park, according to a Sept. 1 letter signed by County Administrator Ed Hunzeker.
“The county has invested almost $300,000 in facility upgrades, repair and maintenance for the John H. Marble Park over the last two years,” he wrote to Allison. “And, although the county does not have the funds for additional renovations and capital improvements at this time, we offered to partner with the YMCA to replace the aging gymnasium building if the YMCA would invest in the capital improvements as well.”
The county’s offer was rebuffed, Hunzeker wrote, noting that lease negotiations had dragged on for two years without success.
“The county has really tried to work with the Y staff, but unfortunately, the two sides couldn’t reach an agreement,” county spokesman Nick Azzara said Thursday.
But despite the dispute, Allison said the county will allow the YMCA to operate the site’s outdoor pool through the end of October.
Right now, the pool is closed, due to damaged equipment slated for repairs Monday, Azzara said.
Allison hoped the Y could continue to operate the pool beyond October, but Azzara said he thought that since the parties failed to reach a lease agreement, the pool would be operated for the community by the county Parks and Recreation Department.
Braden River High School Athletic Director Bob Bowling said he expected his school’s swim team, which has been confined to dry land, to resume aquatic workouts there soon.
“Everything’s fine now,” said Bowling. “Originally, they were going to close the Y pool, but we have a contract with the Y to use the pool.”
About 25 Braden River High boys and girls swim there, five days a week, he said.
Another loose end is the $34,000 annually the Children’s Services Advisory Board has provided for YMCA childrens’ programs.
Last week, the board, because the YMCA had no lease agreement with the county, put the money in a reserve fund for the John H. Marble Park, but the YMCA intends to appeal, Allison said.
He said he thought the board would approve funding for the YMCA once all the facts are in.
“I think they will approve the money because the money should follow the children, and not stay with the facility,” he said.
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7031.