One group wants to build a swimming pool in Falmouth. Another group wants to bring a YMCA here.
Why are they not working together?
The answer given by representatives from both entities is that their goals are quite different.
Talk of bringing a community pool to Falmouth resurfaced last year when Stephen A. Walsh of Katy Hatch’s Road, Falmouth, began looking into the idea and started talks with others in the community, said James C. Preisig of Brick Kiln Road, Falmouth.
A grassroots effort was formed, Mr. Preisig said, with that initial group—later dubbed Falmouth Wants A Y (FWAY)—meeting a handful of times over the summer. “They formed the opinion that the best way to do it was to make it a YMCA,” he said.
At some point in those initial talks, Mr. Preisig said, a separate group formed wanting a broader perspective and to explore a wider array of options. In the fall Mr. Preisig joined that contingent, which is calling itself the Falmouth Aquatics Steering Committee. Its sole goal is to build a pool and wellness center in town.
This is not the first attempt by residents to push for such a facility. In 1995 voters failed to approve a request for $4.2 million to build a swimming pool next to the Lawrence School. And in 2007 a joint venture to build a pool and ice hockey rink was eventually abandoned after the public-private partnership found it difficult to find a suitable site for the project.
Mr. Preisig said the effort being undertaken by his group is different from those that failed in the past. “We are focusing on a private, not-for-profit model rather than the 1995 effort, which was a public one,” he said. “And 2007 was a private, not-for-profit, but the pool was added onto the ice rink rather than being an effort that was solely surrounded by the aquatic aspects. Really, that was an ice rink that may have a pool with it rather than a pool being an integral part of the whole vision.”
Until last summer, talk of a swimming pool facility in Falmouth was quiet. Mary C. Loftus of Central Avenue, East Falmouth, a member of the aquatics group, said some of that may have been due to skepticism that the community would support the effort. Combine that with a tough economy, she said, which were some of the “reasons why this has been on the back burner.”
But over the past six months the effort has picked up steam, with two groups working on parallel tracks with slightly different aims.
“We did not want to screw up again after two failed projects so we really started at the grassroots level focusing on what the town needed as opposed to laying a model on top of it first,” Mr. Preisig explained of the Falmouth Aquatics Steering Committee’s goals.
Since January, the group has been involved in fundraising, using a portion of that money to hire a consultant, Counsilman-Hunsaker of St. Louis, Missouri, to conduct a needs analysis.
A representative from the firm has sat down with an array of community stakeholders, from town officials to those in the health care industry to school officials, over the past two weeks to gather their thoughts on a swimming and wellness center.
“Everyone, by and large, is supportive of the effort and they feel it will fill a gaping hole in our community,” Mr. Preisig said.
As to why Falmouth needs a swimming pool when it has access to so many beaches, Mr. Preisig said, that proximity makes it imperative “that children and people in our community know how to swim. To take advantage of the fact we are surrounded by the ocean and to be safe while doing things in the water is a very strong reason to have a facility.”
Additionally, Ms. Loftus said, this would be a year-round facility, providing residents of all ages with an opportunity to swim in the colder months.
A community pool, she said, would also be beneficial to Falmouth’s elderly population, noting that “swimming is one of the best exercises” for that demographic.
“I just think, given the demographics to the community and the commitment to wellness between the bike path and the road race, this is the icing on the cake to a community committed to staying healthy,” she said.
While the aquatics group has ventured down its path, Mr. Walsh has remained committed to bringing a YMCA to Falmouth. He has been joined by Serena Lo Piccolo-Smith of Falmouth, as well as Laura W. Lincoln of Edgewood Drive, East Falmouth, who have been in talks with officials from the YMCA Cape Cod of West Barnstable.
That trio, along with roughly 40 additional volunteers, have proceeded with the goal of identifying what type of YMCA facility would be best suited to this community.
Stacie Peugh, the president and CEO of the YMCA Cape Cod, has been involved in planning efforts with Falmouth Wants A Y. “We start more by looking at social issues first to see what programs and services the YMCA could provide,” she said, acknowledging one of those programs could be aquatic based.
But Ms. Peugh admitted “we don’t know that yet,” which is why this contingent is also conducting a needs analysis. Currently, she said, volunteers are in the midst of interviewing several community groups and town officials to better understand Falmouth’s issues, both now and in the future.
That qualitative data will be combined with quantitative data as part of the information-gathering phase. Ms. Peugh anticipated the analysis will be complete by the end of August, roughly the same time the aquatics group expects to finish its research. While both are working separately, the two sides plan on sharing the information they have compiled.
Ultimately, Mr. Preisig said, the results of Counsilman-Hunsaker’s analysis could be that a YMCA facility is what is best suited for Falmouth. “If the decision is that the best option for this community is a YMCA, then we will be involved in pushing for that,” Mr. Preisig said. “There may be common ground.”
Still he conceded that in a community of Falmouth’s size having two separate groups with similar goals may be confusing to the public. “I think it can hamper both efforts if people don’t have a clear understanding of the relationship between the two,” he said. “We are trying to keep the avenues of communication as open as we can. No one wants to not get a pool because of personalities or because this is a fractured effort.”