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Drury unveils YMCA, outdoor pool plan for Anderson County

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Millions of dollars, more residents needed to bring Y to town

By BEN CARLSON

An estimated $12 million and a population shortfall are what stand between Anderson County and a YMCA facility, but a judge-executive hopeful says she isn’t letting those obstacles get in her way.

Donna Drury, a non-affiliated candidate, spelled out her admittedly rudimentary plans to bring a YMCA, along with an outdoor swimming pool, to Anderson County if she’s elected judge-executive.

The outdoor pool and YMCA are separate issues, but Drury discussed both during a news conference last Thursday morning in front of the Anderson County Courthouse.

Drury readily admits that, as a private citizen, she has no official authority to make either happen, but insists both can be done.

“I know it’s going to cost big bucks, and even if I’m elected it might not happen in the first four years,” Drury said in an interview Monday afternoon. “The naysayers say there’s no way we can afford it, but we can’t if we don’t try, and our government hasn’t tried.”

Outdoor pool to come first

Drury said she doesn’t have a firm cost or location in mind.

She said her hope is to bring city and county government, the business community and residents together to raise enough money, and lean on advice from the YMCA in Franklin County.

“Local government has not done anything,” she said. “If I’m elected, I want to make this available to the [fiscal] court because we desperately need this.”

The city and county have each dabbled with water recreation ideas in the recent past. A pool committee’s vision of a $4.5 million aquatic center in the county park fizzled over funding problems several years ago, and the city council’s idea to build a splash park near the American Legion did the same last summer.

Drury added that she plans to present the idea of an outdoor pool to the fiscal court even if she isn’t elected, saying, “This is not just to get votes.”

“If we can come together, we can do with a pool what the skate park people did,” she said, referring to a private group of residents that raised half of the skate park funds and secured a matching grant for the rest.

Drury said one fundraiser is already in the works.

“One in particular would be to sell blue ribbons that say ‘county pool’ on them and place them on mailboxes … like Relay for Life does for breast cancer,” she said.

She said she is also confident private donations can be secured.

“A couple people have told me they have money available, and are willing to donate large sums, but not until the county makes a commitment to move forward,” she said.

Drury said another of her plans is to encourage people to donate large sums of money to the county at the time of their death.

“I want to set up an endowment program where people can bequeath money to the county for that purpose,” she said.

YMCA presents bigger hurdles

Selling blue ribbons and other small fundraisers will hardly scratch the surface when it comes to bringing a YMCA facility to Anderson County.

Dave Steele, executive director of the Franklin County YMCA, said each YMCA must be financially able to support itself, and that the agency does not provide funding toward new locations.

Steele said a YMCA in Anderson County would cost between $10 million and $12 million, and a minimum of $3 million would be required just to get the project started.

“It would take one or two very large gifts in a fundraising scenario to make this happen,” he said. “It tends to be an expensive build.”

As of right now, Steele said Anderson County probably isn’t populated enough to have its own YMCA. Typically, a community needs 25,000 full-time residents, and Anderson County reportedly has just under 22,000. He said the national YMCA office is planning a demographics study to determine if the county is large enough.

“I’m pretty sure there are less households than can support a facility right now,” he said.

Steele said that other obstacles include his YMCA’s debt load and struggles to stay afloat.

“Anderson County is in our service area,” he said, “and we already have $2 million in debt, which can greatly tie our hands for even looking to do something in Anderson County. We have issues of our own.”

One way to begin the process, he said, is to introduce the YMCA to the community by opening a storefront facility offering youth and adult sports leagues and other activities.

“That’s the way most YMCAs develop by offering four to five years of programming in a storefront kind of office,” Steele said.

Steele said his recent conversation with Drury wasn’t the first time he’d been approached about bring a YMCA to Anderson County.

Steele said he spoke with current Judge-Executive Steve Cornish a few of years ago.

“Financially, it wasn’t feasible,” he said. “We were just bouncing ideas off each other.”

Drury said other smaller communities have overcome funding and population obstacles, including Switzerland County, Ind., where a community of less than 10,000 people obtained its own YMCA.

She said she and other Anderson County residents will travel there in the coming months to speak with community leaders and determine how they were able to secure the facility.

Steele said that county is unique because of legalized gambling.

“Sometimes funding can happen magically. The Belterra Casino put up that facility,” Steele said, adding that the YMCA there is struggling to survive because of its small membership.

“And they don’t have any debt,” he said.

Where a YMCA facility would be located remains unanswered, but Drury said she has a prime location in mind.

“I haven’t approached anyone yet and have no idea how much it would cost, but a good location would be the car lot that closed,” she said, referring to the defunct Bill Waits Auto Mall on US 127 Bypass near Kroger. “There is a building there and acreage, and [Steele] thought it is an excellent location.”

Will taxpayers foot the bill?

Drury said she has already vowed not to raise taxes if she’s elected, and said she does not plan to do so to pay for an outdoor pool or YMCA facility.

“I don’t foresee local taxes going into it,” she said. “But if the fiscal court wanted to approach that, or the citizens, it could be put on a referendum.

“I think our county needs it, but not at the expense of people not being able to put food on the table. We can do without it until we can afford it.”

Drury undaunted

Drury said she’s aware of the difficulties involved, but maintains that if the county comes together an outdoor pool and YMCA facility can become a reality.

“I told [Steele] I may not live to see it,” Drury said. “But I’d like to see this for our children or grandchildren.

“I’m a planner and a visionary person, and if we don’t dream about these things they will never happen. Instead of saying we don’t have the money … we never will unless we get citizens excited and get them to buy into it.”

Drury said she already has a plan to address the population shortfall, and is working to gather data of her own.

“I’m thinking this probably won’t be started for three to five years,” she said. “I think by then we’ll have enough … we’re just 3,000 less than we need to be.”

While perhaps not as optimistic, Steele said it’s a good conversation for Anderson County residents to have.

“It needs to be discussed,” he said. “If it’s not discussed in some form, things are never going to happen.”

E-mail Ben Carlson at bcarlson@theandersonnews.com.