ROCKLAND — After a COVID spring of no programs at the Flanagan Center under the leadership of the Penobscot Bay YMCA, Rockland City Council extended the Y’s contract for use of the City-owned building during the July 13 Council meeting. The contract is now extended through December 31, 2020; however, the City created a few stipulations potentially resulting in a cancellation clause on a month-per-month basis.
The Y’s contract initially expired at the end of June, prompting some City Councilors to question whether to renew the contract at all. As part of the July 13 order, Council added a clause directing its Parks and Recreation committee to consider what it could do to further shape Rockland’s recreational future. Council is also holding on to the idea of redirecting funds designated for the Y to hire a consultant who studies municipal recreation departments of similar size and budgets as Rockland.
During a May session of the City’s budget talks, Councilor Valli Geiger said: “I’ve heard a lot of complaints about the YMCA’s handling of that building. I’ve been told by Parks [and Recreation Department] and others that it’s filthy, that it’s poorly maintained. The idea of paying them $200,000 for the use of our building bothered me from the beginning, but I was willing to do it to make sure that Rockland kids really got served. I’m hearing complaints in the community that not really that many kids in the community are being served.”
Geiger went on to suggest a conversation about potentially moving City Hall to that location, or selling the building, “which is one of the last remaining industrial parcels,” she said.
In order to allow time for opinions to form, and discussions to be had, Council extended the contract to the end of September. Another request was then added in order to keep the Y’s presence at the Center through the fall months.
Currently, the Flanagan Center is open to families by appointment for the use of the basketball court and games room. In between appointments, staff clean and sanitize, according to City Manager Tom Luttrell, during the July 13 meeting. The Y also runs a summer camp. Due to State executive orders limiting crowds during the pandemic, 20 kids attend the camp, all of whom, according to Geiger, pay to be there.
Through the extension, the City pays $11,575.33 per month to the YMCA, according to Luttrell. Rockland then pays another $60,000 to clean and maintain the building.
In an amendment to the order, Geiger proposed that the contract be terminated if full-service programming was not reinstated by the end of September. However, Councilor Nate Davis requested to soften the language, stating that “full-service” expectations would be unrealistic as the pandemic continues into the fall. He also suggested that Parks and Rec come up with a plan within the next 6 months – or by a certain date – for a set of recommendations on how Council should proceed.
“If we do pass this, I don’t want to get into a situation three or six months from now facing this again without a plan,” he said.
Councilor Ben Dorr agreed with Davis’ sentiment, though hesitated in burdening a committee of volunteers with something that seems like a paid position for what Councilor Ed Glaser determined to be months and months of background research.
“We’re asking another group of volunteers to effectively plan our parks department for us,” he said. “I feel like maybe that does us a disservice and that if we really want to think about this in a long-term sort of way, that feels like a job to me.”
A workshop including Council, the Y, and the Parks committee was also suggested and vetoed.
“I think we need to do a lot more understanding of what the City would like to offer, and how we can possibly offer it, whether it’s through the YMCA or along side the YMCA,” said Councilor Ed Glaser. “I think there’s a lot more to do than to simply have one workshop.”
Glaser then pointed out that Council’s contract extension agreement was being passed without input from the Y.
“We’re doing this from one side of the contract,” he said. “We have no idea whether the YMCA will agree to this or not. On the other hand, if they won’t agree to it, then we don’t have to worry about it at that point. I think this is an important part of what we want to do – is making sure there are programs, and we don’t want to throw our money just sort of into the air and hope that there’s going to be something. We need something that really is either going to be a program, or that we can take that money and invest it in a consultant.”
Reach Sarah Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org