YMCA discussions continue with Culpeper County stakeholders

If there is a point of agreement when it comes to any future construction of a YMCA community center it is that all parties including the Culpeper County Board of Supervisors, the public, businesses and the Culpeper Wellness foundation all want a solution that benefits health and wellness in Culpeper County.

The community seeks more opportunities for families, seniors and especially children—that’s a given.

The Culpeper Board of Supervisors would like to add a question for the voters’ approval for the construction of a YMCA recreation center. The Board is seeking a decision on a project that would build a YMCA of over 50,000 square feet on a 40-acre property located across Route 229 from the Culpeper American Legion. The center would house a pool, fitness spaces and classrooms at a cost estimated at around $9 to $10 million.

Among the YMCA’s top proponents on the BOS is Supervisor Gary Deal, who has advocated for a community center.  At least three board members feel that a YMCA in the Catalpa District would either compliment or potentially partner with existing services in the county.

A slight divergence in the optimistic plan occurs when issues of cost, taxation and duplication of existing services in the public and private sector are examined. The contrasting view is more of a cautious approach to a potential project that could very well cost millions—-it seeks more study, financial planning and a question of whether a future YMCA can be sustained by potential membership fees.

In the spring of 2017 the Culpeper Wellness Foundation (CWF) began discussions with members of the Board of Supervisors, regarding the recreation needs of youth and families in Culpeper County and a proposed community center. The Foundation cited three key goals in relation to any future project. First, the promotion of health and wellness in the community. Secondly, that the project does not duplicate services already in place. Thirdly, that it is sustainable.

In October 2017, the CWF again met with BOS representative to discuss their proposal to build a 50,000 square foot fitness center with a competition swimming pool included, according to the CWF’s press release.  At the meeting the Foundation reiterated its interest in working with community leaders to develop and potentially help fund programs and services that meet (any unmet) needs that are sustainable, according to a written statement from CWF’s board.

The Foundation was asked by the BOS to consider an investment of several million dollars to help build and possibly help manage the facility in the meetings. The CWF in the desire to assess the “feasibility of the project” as it was proposed by the BOS, hired Healthplex Associates, a national firm, to conduct a feasibility study that would include a market analysis and a financial forecast based on the known plans being considered.

A 20-page study completed by Healthplex Associates and presented to the CWF in January indicated a potential shortfall of $4.6 million dollars if the YMCA had a membership of 747 in five years of operation thus creating a need for the county to subsidize in the first years of the project, according to the CWF.

Additionally, a potential YMCA could impact the current Powell Wellness Center, local childcare businesses, fitness chains and smaller private businesses that serve recreation and fitness needs within Culpeper County.

Currently, the BOS is still in the process making decision on the project by May, then if approved by the BOS it will add a referendum question on the YMCA for a November vote.

Barney Reiley, CEO of the Rappahannock Area YMCA has publicly disputed the potential costs figures given by the Healthplex Associates’ study. He said that Culpeper can sustain a new YMCA, but he also stated that hundreds of extra dollars could be needed to subsidize the future project.

In contrast, Culpeper Wellness Foundation’s Board issued a series of questions in its Board’s press release that include:

“Is the community’s desire for a pool the major driver in the current proposal?”

“What kind of pool is needed and affordable? “

“A community pool that is regular open to the public at no or little cost?”

“Will there be a therapy pool?”

“Will a membership-based facility serve our community best?”

“What resources are already available in our community? Has there been an inventory?”

Culpeper Wellness Foundation’s President Shari Landry thinks that her foundation’s research into the project and the study by Healthplex should lead to a more cautious approach.  Based on the information in the report the project would potentially cost more than estimates given by the YMCA.

“We want to work with the Board of Supervisors and help the community realize its goals. I think it’s clear that we obtained the study to determine if investing in the proposed 50,000 sq. ft. building/programs is a responsible use of our resources.  The study concludes that the project – as currently planned – is not financially feasible,” said Landry. “Our recommendation is that we slow the process and take the time to consider what the community needs and what we can support for the long term considering questions like those outlined in our Board’s response. It’s not that we are opposed to a community center.”

Other questions outside of the ones provided by the CWF’s Board could also be added.

What are the potential benefits to senior citizens to a YMCA?

Will Culpeper County’s Parks and Recreation Department and its programs be impacted by a potential YMCA center?

For now, a decision by the BOS awaits in May as additional plans are reviewed by committees.

It is the consensus of all parties that the public will make the ultimate call on the proposed YMCA.