Pool OK’d, but who will run it?

Published 12:06 am Tuesday, August 8, 2017

NATCHEZ — Despite warnings that the YMCA could leave Natchez by November, the Adams County Board of Supervisors on Monday authorized the approximately $1.4 million in contracts for the pool complex.

Rotelo Consultants of Slidell, La., bid on the pool and Wilmar Construction Company of Vidalia bid on the support building. The vote passed 3-2, with Supervisors Mike Lazarus and David Carter citing concerns about appropriating $1.4 million to a project without having a clear idea of who would run it.

Earlier in the meeting, Natchez-Adams County Recreation Commissioner John Ward Junkin delivered a letter to supervisors from the Metropolitan YMCAs of Mississippi stating the YMCA’s intention to potentially pull out of Natchez in November.

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Junkin said the YMCA is getting fed up with the city’s unwillingness to place its recreation employees under the control of Natchez YMCA Director Alice Agner. The interlocal agreement between the county, city, recreation commission and school board requires the city to place its employees under the direction of the recreation commission.

Junkin said an after-school program was shut down because the YMCA was unsure Agner would still be in Natchez long term.

Agner said she does not want to leave, but the YMCA’s stance is if Agner is not allowed to do her job in Natchez she may as well be in Jackson where she could work.

“I don’t want to leave,” Agner said. “I prayed about coming here, and I still believe it is the right place to be, but I need to be able to do the job I was brought here to do.”

While District 4 Supervisor Ricky Gray said the county did not need to be telling the city what to do, Lazarus said the city needs to make a decision.

“The city needs to decide what to do,” Lazarus said. “It is getting to be crunch time, Nov. 1 is almost here. We can’t keep going down this road.”

Lazarus said the YMCA’s involvement is what convinced him to OK the pool.

“Every second-grader could learn to swim because of the Y,” Lazarus said. “We would have senior aerobics classes. To me, that turned it into a positive versus what we had before at Duncan Park.”

Lazarus was referring to the failed city-run pool at Duncan Park. Lazarus and Carter have said municipal or county-run pools do not work.

At the end of the meeting, Gray asked for an update on where the pool is. Adams County Board Attorney Scott Slover said the Natchez Board of Aldermen had authorized contracts for the pool project but the county had not.

Lazarus said he was not ready to deal with the contracts until he knew the YMCA would be present.

Gray, however, made a motion to authorize the contracts, and District 3 Supervisor Angela Hutchins seconded it.

Gray said the YMCA is considering leaving over an issue involving the city, which was out of the supervisors’ control. Gray said the majority of community leaders were still on the same page with the pool, so why not move forward with it?

Gray said once the pool was built, the YMCA director would have something to do in running the pool.

Carter said he would hate to see the community spend approximately $1.4 million, which is approximately $400,000 over the original budget, on a pool only to have the YMCA pull out and the pool fail.

“The Natchez model already failed,” Carter said. “History has a tendency of repeating itself. If we build the same pool and run it the same way, how will that be any different?”

Gray said the YMCA is not going anywhere because the deal the community is offering is too good. Gray said the city and county are giving the YMCA its operational money, so they don’t have to raise money like in other communities.

Gray said in other communities in the state, the YMCA is not over county or city parks. Gray said the YMCA should run the pool and the multipurpose field.

Agner said if she did not have jurisdiction over a park with a baseball field, how was she supposed to run a baseball league or a basketball league without access to the Margaret Martin gym?

Agner said this was not about shutting out other leagues, but putting it all beneath one umbrella so recreation could grow, county wide.

The build-out for the pool is 200 days. Earlier in the summer, leaders had anticipated that if construction had begun by early August, the pool could be open sometime in spring 2018.