BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – A move by the City of Fort Madison and the Fort Madison YMCA could have the city pool in the hands of recreation experts by the start of the season.
According to Fort Madison YMCA Director Ryan Wilson and Fort Madison City Manager David Varley, negotations have already taken place to turn over management of the city pool to the YMCA this year. Approval to move on the negotiations needs to come from the Fort Madison City Council at Tuesday’s meeting.
Wilson confirmed negotiations had taken place between city officials and a committee of the YMCA board this week and the conversations were very positive.
“Well, I was approached by the city and by David and he and I talked in person about it and he gave me some information. A couple of days later I took it our board that we had this possible opportunity on our plate and the board thought it was something to take a look at,” Wilson said.
The YMCA then formed a committee and did some research into the project and met with the city again on Tuesday.
“We talked about some things and got to the point where we all feel comfortable,” Wilson said.
Varley said the city had been thinking about the idea for a while, but said recent state budget cuts that eliminated offender labor that was being used in the parks, gave the city a reason to look at turning over the pool and using those saved resources to focus on the city parks.
“This will allow us to save staff and time and put those resources to our parks,” Varley said. “It was kind of prompted by that, but we’ve been thinking about it for awhile. It seems like it makes sense to have someone better at recreation do the recreation part and we’re better at the facility. Hopefully the public would get some better service, maybe some different hours and things like that.”
Varley said the city’s looking at paying the YMCA a management fee in hopes of making it a profitable venture for them. He said typically municipalities run pools and lose money but it would the city’s hope and intention that the YMCA could make it a profitable venture for their programming and services.
“We lose money on it and I think the YMCA can run it more efficiently,” he said. “They have economies of scale and they can close that gap. We don’t expect them to lose money and we would cover any loss or look at a management fee to help with that.”
Wilson said he sees it as a win for the YMCA and out of the gate anyway he wouldn’t see any changes, with the exception of the YMCA being the manager of the pool.
“All staff at the public pool would become YMCA staff. Lifeguards would be employed and managed by the Y. The biggest thing that will make this go is that we would keep Sara Mueller in place at the pool. She’s been that person that has been overseeing the city pool in the past for the city.
“At this point it’s in the city’s hands to put something together,” Wilson said. “So assuming he gets that nod from the council, the hope would be for us shortly after that to have a contract in hand for me to take to my board.”
Wilson and Varley both pointed to Washington where two years ago the Washington YMCA took over operations of the municipal pool and both have heard good things from that relationship. The Burlington YMCA last year took over operations of the West Burlington Municipal Swimming Pool.
“The feedback I got back from Burlington was pretty positive,” Wilson said.
Varley said he spoke with Washington officials and both parties there spoke highly of the change. He said after hearing that, he decided to approach Wilson.
“It kind of makes sense all around. If it works for everybody…let’s give it a shot for a year.”
Varley also said he’d like to get approval from the council at Tuesday’s meeting so the YMCA can start working on it and not be behind with the pool opening coming in May.
“Tuesday, if they give us approval, the following meeting we’ll have a contract ready. Then the YMCA can start working on it. I don’t want to put them any more behind. We can make it formal at a following meeting.