City of Fort Walton Beach to financially help support the old YMCA swimming pool

On August 3, 2021, representatives from the Emerald Coast Fitness Foundation, Inc. presented a funding request to City Council in the amount of $25,000 for continued operation of the old YMCA pool on the City’s Golf Club property.

The old YMCA pool has been operated by the Emerald Coast Fitness Foundation since 2015 after the City leased property to Liza Jackson Preparatory School. The pool has become an asset to the community.

  • Since then, the Emerald Coast Fitness Foundation has assumed operation of a pool in Destin and Crestview.

Similar requests were made to Okaloosa County and the Okaloosa County School District by the Foundation. All three have agreed to provide a funding contribution.

  • Destin has been financially supporting the Aquatic Center since 2017.
  • The OCSD funds will be spread out to the locations that swim teams use.
  • Okaloosa County funds will be spread out across 3 locations.

“This is a way that you can enhance the quality of life in Fort Walton Beach,” said ECFF Treasurer, Kathi Heapy. “People move here and know that their kids can be on a swim team, know that their kids can take swimming lessons, and senior citizens that move here have a place to go and exercise. We have snowbirds that come here and athletes that grow up here and go on to swim in college.”

On the topic of athletes, Heapy told Get The Coast that right now there are at least 6 former high school swimmers who are on scholarships to Division 1 & 2 colleges.

  • In the last seven years, of the All Sports Association Scholar Athlete Awards given, six of those athletes were swimmers.

Without these pools, Heapy says that varsity swim simply doesn’t exist. And although it’s not specific to Fort Walton Beach, because of the pool addition in Crestview, it is looking very good for creating new middle school swim teams at Davidson and Shoal River this year.

“This is the first year that Crestview High School had varsity swimming in its history,” added Heapy. “49 kids came out for the team and they’re going to host a couple of meets up there in October.”

According to the Emerald Coast Fitness Foundation, the non-profit does charge a membership for patrons to use the facility, and school swim teams are charged rent. However, they keep their fees “very low.”

“This is one reason we are asking for contributions from the government organizations,” said Heapy. “We can keep the fees low so that there can be widespread participation across income levels.”

  • $30/mo for aqua-cise sessions every day, Monday-Friday.
  • $45/mo for lap swim 7 days/week
  • $85 for an eight swim lesson package per month
  • $50 for the four lesson package per month
  • $10 daily drop-in fees

The Emerald Coast Fitness Foundation also has $250,000 in salary expenses per year for lifeguards and the pool manager. Not to mention other expenses such as pool chemicals, utilities, etc.

“When we created the Emerald Coast Fitness Foundation to do this, we did it with the model of knowing that people will pay to use the pool and we can generate revenue to pay the bills,” said Heapy to the council. “We knew that we would not be able to generate enough revenue to service any debt unless we raised prices a lot.”

According to Heapy, there are improvements and additions that need to be made to the old YMCA building and things are breaking a lot.

  • “It’s a maintenance nightmare, basically,” she said.

Sharon Smith, who’s father was Bernie R. Lefebvre and who the center is named after, told the council that her family donated $100,000 to the Foundation and offered up her support of the organization.

“When you’re going to give an organization a lot of money, you want them to be fiscally responsible and the Emerald Coast Fitness Foundation, they count their pennies and they’re very good at it.”

  • Smith noted that the Emerald Coast Fitness Foundation is working to help underserved communities, in addition to working with Children In Crisis and the Youth Village.
  • “Not everybody can afford to have swim lessons, but we’re a water community and our kids need to know how to swim,” she said to the council.

“You brought back a memory of when I was in the City of Baltimore and we had community pools and that was sometimes the only recreation we had,” said Council-member Kirby Locklear. “It was a wonderful opportunity and the fact that for $25,000, we get the access to a pretty good facility, I think it would be money well spent.”

“When we started this foundation in 2015, we did this strictly out of a need to get control of those pools and get them working,” said Heapy. “We didn’t go asking the city or the county for money, mostly because I wasn’t sure what we could promise.”

“They have accountability and we didn’t know what we were going to be able to achieve. So we got donations from families and companies locally, but we didn’t go to the government yet. We have waited for five years to get to a point where we were comfortable filling out those forms, making those requests and making those assurances of what we’re providing to the community.”

The council voted unanimously to support the Foundation with $25,000.

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