Thursday, September 13, 2001

Scarborough invites YMCA to consider building pool

Published in the Current

The town of Scarborough is talking to the YMCA about the possibility of building a pool next to the proposed community center on the old drive-in property near town hall.

Town Manager Ron Owens confirmed that he is meeting this week with the Portland-based Cumberland County YMCA.

Owens said there is demand for a pool, from both members of the community and the schools, but the Town Council decided not to include it in the tax-payer funded proposal for the drive-in property.

That $5.7 million proposal includes a teen center, senior center and gym and is going before voters on the Nov. 6 ballot.

“We felt that was too much to ask of the taxpayer,” to also fund a pool, Owens said. Instead, he is looking for a partnership with another agency to bring a pool to Scarborough.

“That’s where a Y would be instrumental,” Owens said.

The YMCA is not the only possibility, Owens said, mentioning the Boys and Girls Clubs as a possible alternative, but said the Y is the organization being talked about the most.

“That’s the first agency that we’ve approached,” Owens said.

Owens said a pool plan could involve the Town Council offering the Y land adjacent to the
proposed town center building.

There is space remaining that could fit a 50-meter pool, he said.

“For that to occur, we need some other agency to work with,” Owens said.

In return for the land, Owens said, the town would require the partner agency to allow some
level of access to the pool by town residents.

He hesitated to go into further specifics, saying talks are only just beginning between the Y and the town.

Scarborough resident Stephen Ives, executive director of the Northern York County YMCA in
Biddeford, said the town’s current plan for a community center leaves room for improvement.

“It’s a minimal facility. It’s a teen center, senior center and a gym,” Ives said. He said the Y could add a swimming pool and other services Ys traditionally offer, including childcare, afterschool
programs, sports, and recreation and fitness equipment.

The specifics of a Y in Scarborough would depend on the results of a study to determine the
town’s needs.

“A Y is supposed to be a response to the needs of its community,” Ives said.

One of the people working with Ives is fellow Scarborough resident, Gary O’Donnell.

“We’re still very much in the beginning stages,” O’Donnell said.

He is putting together a group of local residents to gauge community demand for services a Y could offer, and to evaluate the fundraising support the effort could garner.

O’Donnell is looking for people with energy and time to devote to the project, who reflect the diversity of town residents.

“Scarborough is a very diverse community of interests and needs,” O’Donnell said.

He has an idea of who might be a good person to join. “Someone who is passionate and retired
would be great,” O’Donnell said.

He also is concerned about how much building maintenance could cost taxpayers. A non-profit
agency, he said, would have to fund ongoing costs from donations, rather than taxes.

“There’s a wonderful opportunity to look for charitable and town partnerships,” O’Donnell said.

Ives said a Y in Scarborough would likely be a branch of the Cumberland County YMCA, which operates a swimming pool as part of its facility in Portland.

Sharing a recreation facility between the YMCA and the town of Scarborough is not without
precedent elsewhere in the country, Ives said, though it isn’t a common relationship for a municipality to enter into.

“Ys partner with everybody,” Ives said. “Ys are very attuned to collaboration.”

The national YMCA organization will get involved, through the local Y, to help O’Donnell and others study how well Scarborough could support a Y, and whether a Y would meet Scarborough’s needs. The study could take six months to a year, Ives said.

Without a solid base of willing participants and interested people, the Y won’t come.

“It really depends on the volunteers and the support from the community,” Ives said.

Scarborough residents will see a referendum for the community center on November’s ballot, but it will not include any reference to the proposed Y, Owens said.

The referendum will discuss the cost of preparing the site, building the community center, parking, a pond, picnic space and ball fields.

Any future referendum for the pool would depend on the level of the town’s involvement in the project, Owens said.

A referendum is not necessary for the Town Council to allow the Y or another organization to build on the drive-in property, Owens said.

In the end, he said, both the Cumberland County YMCA board and the Scarborough Town
Council will have to approve beginning negotiations between the two groups, as well as any
agreements reached.