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About 100 board members and supporters of the Shelby Sharks – about a third of them children – stormed out of a meeting Tuesday night, muttering in anger and some even shouting at members of the Shelby County Parks Board, protesting the board’s decision on a new contract with the swim team that could mean its end in Shelby County.
The exodus came after the board decided to rent lane space to the Lakeside Seahawks swim team, an option that did not sit well with members of the Sharks, who had said they were hoping to continue the long-standing relationship the team has had to use the Family Activities Center at Clear Creek Park by buying an annual membership.
“They [board members] could easily have gone with option two, which would have kept the same contract,” Michelle Vest, president of the Sharks’ board, said after the meeting. “That’s what we were hoping for. Also, I expected to be able to speak.”
Parks board members did not allow public comment, and there was no comment by board members before voting on a new contract arrangement.
Parks Board Chair Hubie Pollett said after the meeting that public comment was not taken because representatives of the Sharks had made their wishes known to the parks board before the meeting with E-mail and other communications.
The board of the Sharks, an independent team that has been part of Shelby County for 20-plus years, had wanted to create a more stable environment after a few years of turmoil by aligning with the Lakeside Seahawks, a team from Louisville known for producing Olympians, but keeping the same financial arrangement for using the FAC.
The board considered three options: to allow the Sharks to continue as they are without Lakeside, have a Lakeside coach come in and run the operation or to just rent lane space to Lakeside.
The board unanimously approved the third option.
But Sharks board members said they felt that renting lane space to Lakeside at $12 per lane per hour was the parks board’s way of discouraging the Seahawks to rent the FAC.
“It was clear that they’re pricing Lakeside out the program,” said Rick Taylor, secretary of the Sharks. “That’s my concern with the twelve-dollar lane fee. It not only prices families out, but it makes it look like Lakeside is at fault, because outsiders would see Lakeside coming in and prices going up and blaming Lakeside.”
However, Parks and Recreation Director Shawn Pickens, while admitting that option two would benefit the most kids – with prices remaining close to what they had been, together with the swim team under the control of the Seahawks – said that option was not the best for the FAC.
“The FAC would not benefit greatly financially with this option,” he told the crowd before the vote, as he explained the three options from which the board would choose. “There would be some income, but it would be limited to under ten thousand dollars a year, estimated.”
Pickens said option three would be most beneficial to the FAC financially, with a lower workload for staff because Lakeside would handle more of the work and a high income, estimating that the move would bring in from $70,000 to $75,000 per year as opposed to the $10,000 per year.
“The downside to this would be the entry fees for the swim team members would increase significantly from the current approximate range of eighty dollars to a hundred and twenty dollars [per month] to approximately a hundred and eighty dollars to two-twenty range,” he said. “This is to cover Lakeside’s expense to rent lane space.”
Vest said she didn’t think any of the swimmers, who currently pay a yearly membership fee in exchange for using the pool, would be able to afford the cost increase of about $100 per month.
When asked how many swimmers she thought would stay on at the FAC under the new program, she said, “Zero.”
Pollett said he did not think the rate of $12 per hour per lane was unfair.
“Even the Lakeside coach said they pay fourteen dollars a lane at Mary T [Meagher Aquatic Center in Louisville], so we thought we would help them out by lowering the price to twelve dollars,” he said.
Pollett said the decision to rent lane space at the FAC’s pool is in keeping with procedures regarding other programs within the parks system.
“That’s what we do with everybody else,” he said, adding that the park rents fields to sports team who come to Shelby to play.
“Rather than go into a contract with a team like Lakeside, from outside the county, even though Shelby County kids swim there, Louisville kids swim there, too, and Oldham, wherever, we thought it would be best to treat everybody the same.”