"See You at the YMCA..." By William L. Bainbridge. School and College. September 1992.

SEE YOU AT THE YMCA

by William L. Bainbridge, Ph.D.

The superintendent of the Ankeny Community School District in Iowa was frustrated because he knew his high school students sorely needed a swimming and recreation facility, and he couldn't find the funds. The words to the pop song of a decade ago may have come to mind because Dr. Ben Norman headed to the YMCA.

"Young man, there's no need to feel down, I say,
young man get yourself off the ground ... there's
no need to be unhappy ... I say, young man when
you're short on the dough there's a fun place to
go - the YMCA."
- - The Village People

Norman and his school board joined forces with the Ankeny YMCA in an innovative facility use program which can be a model for other school districts around the country. The result is a beautiful recreation facility and a feeling of community pride and cooperation. The new joint use facility was created after two other community projects were turned down, an indoor swimming pool for the high school and a free-standing YMCA. The Ankeny community had neither a rec center nor a pool. Volunteer groups in Ankeny banded together in supporting a multi-million dollar bond issue to build a joint YMCA school district facility at the high school and operated as a YMCA.

Norman, with school board approval, proposed to build the facility, believing the YMCA of the capital overhead for both the building and equipment. Using a section of the Iowa code permitting "28 E agreements" between government agencies and outside organizations, meetings were initiated between school officials and YMCA leaders to write up an agreement and proceed. The "28 E agreement" allowed the high school and the YMCA to work together to better the community. The school brought the facility and site to the table, while the YMCA offered the management and financial skills to keep the facility maintained and operational. A proposition was placed on the ballot and supported by 70 percent of the voters. Ankeny had a new community recreactional facility without raising taxes for operation. Folks in the Des Moines suburb feel that other school districts and non-profit groups could achieve the same results.

In operation since late 1989, the 38,000 square foot facility includes an eight lane indoor swimming pool, a multipurpose gym, three combination handball-racketball courts, weightrooms, locker rooms and babysitting facilities. After nearly three years of operation, YMCA and school officials agree the concept has been a hugh success. Some problems have occurred, as might be expected, in scheduling a facility shared between community residents and school children. On the other hand, there are many positive aspects to having adults in the school interacting with youngsters and seeing students in action. The facility is used at its maximum - open 18 hours a day.

Ankeny's approach is a unique solution for school systems having difficulty passing financial issues at the polls. The sense of responsibility that comes from a partnership between two leading community organizations builds strength which will endure. More than a tactic, the approach is a strategic solution, not only to providing facilities but to bonding positive forces within the service area.

In this era of school-business partnerships, it is important to look for opportunities to work with non-profit businesses which are in the people services industry. A YMCA is only one example of a group which school districts can approach to forge alliances for the common good. Successful partnerships can be developed with art museums, recreation commissions, colleges & universities, historic centers, science centers, symphonies, community theatre, public libraries, nature preserves and, of course, YWCAs as well. It is important that all sources of external funds be explored. It appears to be a great mistake to just assume that a non-profit lacks funding and, therefore, would be a weak partner. Foundation decision-makers frequently are more receptive to joint proposals than to those coming from singular groups. In Ankeny's case, so too, were the voters.

In looking at partnerships, experts agree that program design and measurable outcomes need to be in place. For example, if a partnership were to be forged with an art museum or symphony, on-going linkages can be most helpful to the long-term success of the venture. Such linkages can take the form of facilities, but may be focused on course credit, grades, financial rewards, time off from school and/or other forms of recognition for students who wish to participate. Meaningful programs provide opportunities for all students, not just academically, artistically or athletically talented.

Many thoughtful educators are beginning to question business partnerships in terms of their degree of commitment or substantive effect on opportunities for young people. Youth, adults and staff alike are very pleased with the results which this unusual partnership in Ankeny has produced. While partnerships can make good fodder for public relations coordinators on both sides, programs with lasting outcomes like those in Ankeny are important if the concept is going to be more than just a fad.

Norman says this is a great way to "have a pool and not go broke." He's quite proud of the facility and willing to share the concept and documentation with other administrators and community leaders. I hope many will take him up on his generous offer. In these sometimes difficult economic and political times, such creative solutions to facility financing make a good deal of sense.

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Bainbridge is President of SchoolMatch, a Columbus (OH) research firm assisting corporations with school data and consulting services.