Board OKs Aqua Club to manage pool

By Susan Bromley
Staff Writer
Brandon Twp.- Aqua Club will manage the Brandon Aquatics Center.
At their May 15 meeting, the school board approved by a 5-2 vote a 2-year contract with Aqua Club at a cost of $40,000 annually, to provide services at the pool located at Brandon High School. Board President Kevin McClellan, Treasurer Debbie Brady, Secretary Diane Salter and Trustees John Chartier and Marianne Dwyer voted yes. Vice-President Lisa Kavalhuna and Trustee Bob Eisiminger voted no.
Prior to the vote, McClellan noted the deterioration in pool management and services over the past several years, but said district officials had not addressed the problems as they had “bigger fish to fry.” The issues came to a head with the sudden departure of Aquatics Director Donna Wagner in March, especially as the shortage of staff presented safety concerns at the pool.
“When she left, it forced us to do something else,” said McClellan. “The thing for me with the pool is it’s a money pit. We can go with Aqua Club and they will do the heavy lifting, or we don’t approve and someone has to do the work and we increase costs (to the district) and I’m not interested (in increasing costs) unless it’s for instruction for kids.”
Several concerned pool users voiced their objections to the contract with Aqua Club during public comment, just as they had last month after hearing about the proposed contract. An alternative plan was proposed by the pool users in which aquatics management would not be outsourced, but Brady said that plan, which appeared to rely heavily on volunteers, was not viable, nor was a suggestion of raising the annual pool membership rate to $800.
“We are here to service kids,” she said. “There are not enough people to volunteer their time for the pool. I can’t see it happening. Raising the rate to $800 is ridiculous. Who can afford that?”
Under the approved Aqua Club contract, open swim hours will be reduced, but membership costs will remain the same, as will the per-swim fee. Costs to the district will decrease with increased memberships. Currently, the aquatics center has 42 memberships. Aqua Club Owner Nim Shapira, a two-time Olympic swimmer whose company also manages school district pools in Oxford and Clarkston, previously has said he is confident he will increase the memberships. If the aquatics center reaches 175 memberships, the district will not be charged for pool management. Under the contract, Aqua Club will collect the revenue from membership fees and classes. The district will continue to be responsible for pool maintenance, repairs, etc.
This was a point of contention for some who spoke at the May 15 meeting, who questioned why the district was not only paying Aqua Club, but also allowing the for-profit company to collect all revenues while not bearing any of the expenses of the facility.
Jeff Cooper suggested the district was burning the candle at both ends, “paying Aqua Club $40,000 so they could make $80,000” and “lining the pockets for a for-profit entity.”
Patrick Ervin said the district was lacking in due diligence.
“A better path is to be more reasonable than giving the community two weeks to solve problems,” he said. “I recommend you strongly reconsider giving a 2-year contract when other districts give 12 months. The numbers don’t add up.”
Dana DePalma, a Brandon Township trustee and mother of two, said her children used to take swim classes at the pool, but she had to take them elsewhere because the classes were only offered on Mondays. While she said the Aqua Club contract “does seem to cost a lot,” she asked the board to act in the interest of “all ages,” which was a common refrain from the board members Monday night.
“We need to focus on the community, including students and all ages,” said Kavalhuna, prior to the vote. “How is our current situation serving every age in our community? How do we progress in serving all? The black cloud of fiscal responsibility is always over us… Guiding factors are safety, fiscal responsibility and service to all ages… This will be the new norm. We all have to adapt. We have to serve the community as a whole in a manner that is safe and fiscally sound. Going with the expert is the way to do that.”
Kavalhuna voted no on the contract, saying she supported Aqua Club, but was not wholly comfortable with the contract terms.
Eisiminger declined to comment on his no vote.
Superintendent Matt Outlaw said the 2-year contract was necessary as the swim club is starting from scratch and would have to put considerable resources in to get started.
“For us to do this on our own, it would cost considerably more than it does to hire Aqua Club,” he said, estimating the district’s cost would be between $60,000-$120,000 to hire their own pool manager. “I am excited to be moving forward. We’ve had a significant need in the area of aquatics and this will put us in a position to offer a high quality program for families and the community.”
Aqua Club will host an open house for open swim at 10 a.m., May 22, at the aquatics center, 1025 S. Ortonville Road.