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Council questions on sticking with YMCA for recreation

By Stephen Betts | May 15, 2020
The Flanagan Community Center in Rockland.

Rockland — Two Rockland City Councilors questioned Wednesday evening whether the city should continue to contract with the Penobscot Bay YMCA for recreation services.

Councilor Valli Geiger said at the May 13 City Council budget meeting that she has fielded a lot of complaints about the YMCA's handling of the building.

Geiger said paying the YMCA to use the city building has bothered her since the beginning but that she went along with it because she wanted children to have an opportunity for recreational services.

On Thursday, Geiger expanded on her comments.

"I have heard complaints from some members of Parks and Rec as well as several citizens about the lack of cleanliness, rooms full of broken equipment, and a general sense of disappointment that expectations about having the Y provide children programming in Rockland would bring the kinds of opportunities  that children in Rockport and Camden enjoy. That has not happened. There is very little programming except basketball in winter and a summer rec program at the lake," Geiger said.

Councilor Ed Glaser said his concern was that the city was paying the YMCA for a building not being used with no services since the COVID-19 outbreak started. The building was closed starting March 16.

The city is paying the YMCA $138,904 for the year to provide recreational services. The city also pays for the maintenance and utilities for the Flanagan Community Center.

Finance Director John Thibodeau said the YMCA has said it would not be seeking an increase for 2020-2021.

The current contract expires June 30. Geiger said with the expiration of the contract and the virus-related closure, this was a good time to look at getting better services for Rockland young people.

Mayor Lisa Westkaemper said such discussions should be held in a closed-door executive session.

The YMCA has been operating the city's recreation program since Oct. 1, 2015. The proposal was initially met with opposition and skepticism by many residents. The Council voted in June 2018 to renew the contract for another two years.

Then Mayor Geiger said in June 2018 that the YMCA's operation of the community's recreation programs had worked much better than when the city ran them.

Pen Bay YMCA President and Chief Executive Officer Melissa Bellew said Thursday the YMCA loves its partnership with the city and looks forward to continuing it.

The Flanagan Center has been closed based on government guidelines during the COVID-19 outbreak, she said. A limited opening is scheduled for June 1.

The city manager said at the May 13 meeting that the YMCA plans to offer its day camp during the summer by dividing up students into smaller groups and when they are not at Chickawaukie Lake, they will be in separate areas at the recreation building.

The YMCA president said the YMCA has served an average of 300 young people each month for the latest six months that the building was open.

The YMCA provides free membership to the youth of Rockland.

McLain building

The City Council also discussed the McLain School building during the May 13 meeting.

The City has built up $81,000 in a reserve account for the building that the school had planned to turn over to Rockland.

Regional School Unit 13 Superintendent John McDonald said Thursday the district would not be moving out of McLain during the 2020-2021 school year. The district's computer servers are located in the building and moving them during remote learning would not make sense, he said.

RSU 13 Business Manager Peter Orne said it would not make sense for the city to budget money for operating costs for McLain since the school district is setting aside money for it, and Rockland pays 40 to 45% of the RSU 13 budget.

The district was looking at moving the offices and servers in McLain to South School and other RSU 13 buildings, but was put on hold because attention was focused on dealing with the impact from the COVID-19 outbreak.

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Comments (3)
Posted by: Joseph Steinberger | May 16, 2020 14:46

I agree with Debra and Steve. Debra's idea that we can use more volunteers is a great one. The Rec is a very important resource for our children. It used to be much more open to them, and it should be again.

Posted by: Debra Damon | May 15, 2020 08:30

I agree that Rockland should not be paying the YMCA. Why not ask the public about helping to put it into a better looking place, fix the rooms that have broken equipment, hire someone to keep it clean when it reopens. Keep Benji on because I think he is good with all the kids. I asked one time when I was there for my grandson's basketball practice, to give me a broom and I'd clean the bleachers off, because they were disgusting, but was told no that's alright we have someone come in clean. Must have been a ghost cleaning, because it was still dirty when they had their game on Saturday. I believe we have a lot of Carpenters in the area that have young children, that might volunteer their time in fixing things, and the community itself, Rockland, Owls Head, Spruce Head, South Thomaston would offer too. Just my thoughts....I thought there would be changes but I don't see them.


Posted by: Stephen K Carroll | May 15, 2020 08:16

I'm right there with you on this one Vallie.  At first thought the Y's involvement would be a good thing, but have found quite the opposite to be true.  I have heard from others as well that  the programs and involvement with Rockland youth has not been as expected.  I'm hearing students have no where to go after school and the Rec center for years provided this comfort.  When I was in school we always had dances every Saturday night and Roller skating every Friday night and the whole school showed up weekly. Plus there were many after school programs.  I would support that move. Now that endorsement and $2.00 should buy you a cup of Coffee at Rock City.

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