St. Mary’s County commissioners were briefed on the results of a feasibility study to determine several factors regarding a community center in the county, including what activities should be offered and which location would be optimal.
After holding six meetings, the county’s YMCA exploratory committee provided commissioners with a summary of their report in July, where they agreed to enter into an agreement with the YMCA of the Chesapeake to conduct the feasibility study.
The exploratory committee determined during their meetings they would recommend three Lexington Park locations — a site located on Shangri-La Drive next to the Lexington Park library, a site next to the Great Mills Swimming Pool and a site next to Nicolet Park.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Lori Swann, Triangle 2 consultant, went over some of the findings of the study with commissioners via video conference.
“We had no trouble getting people to participate,” she said, mentioning they reached out to community members through phone calls as well as email.
The results of the study are based on 817 completed phone interviews of residents within a 30-minute drive time from the proposed sites, as well as 1,399 online surveys.
When county residents were asked what they primarily do for exercise, 70% answered walking and another 30% said running or cycling. While less than 3% replied with exercise classes, Swann suggested “this could be an indicator there are not a lot of providers in the community where someone could join or take classes.”
Residents were asked what most excited them about having access to a YMCA in their community, with pools and having things for families to do being the two most popular responses. With 39% of residents very interested and 21% somewhat interested in having a pool, “whatever you build needs to have an aquatic element and a pretty significant one at that,” the consultant said.
The number one reason why someone wouldn’t participate in YMCA activities was because they are too old, which could indicate a lack of senior programs available in the area, Robbie Gill, CEO of the YMCA of the Chesapeake said. 69% of seniors responded they would be most interested in walking clubs offered by the facility and 53% were interested in day trips.
When it came down to the three possible locations, “there’s not a lot of differences in demographic size comparison … Great Mills has a couple thousand more households than the other two,” Swann mentioned.
According to the surveys, people were most familiar with the Shangri-La Drive site. In an overall ranking, Shangri-La came in first with the Great Mills Pool coming in second and Nicolet Park third. Swann noted community leaders do have a concern with the Shangri-La site not being big enough, and recommended the Great Mills Pool site because of the higher population and driving traffic.
Commissioner Mike Hewitt (R) asked how this study compared to studies in other areas, with Swann replying “the demand is high” for the facility. She confirmed she “expects this to be very successful,” as “people are excited about it.”
Hewitt reminded Gill after the facility is built, the YMCA of the Chesapeake would take over operational expenses and asked how long it would take for them to break even.
“If you’re not having to borrow any money to build it, traditionally about eighteen months,” Gill said, adding the median household income in the county is “greater than any community we serve on the Eastern Shore.” Membership models and costs are based on income and lower prices are offered to those making less than a certain amount of money annually.
He mentioned they have not had to close any of their facilities before and they’ve been on the eastern shore “predating the Civil War.”
“We’ve heard the YMCA is about supporting youth and teens,” Commissioner Todd Morgan (R) said. He pointed out not many young people were interviewed in the surveys, with only 12% of responses coming from residents in their twenties.
Swann said they could not reach out to those under the age of 18, but Gill mentioned the community centers usually partner up with school systems to provide access to younger kids.
The next step of the process is a fundraising study to determine who would be willing to support the center and on what level. Gill said the study will explore the county’s ability to raise money and help see what more work needs to be done before people are in the position to donate to the cause.
“We’ll work towards getting those interviews the first of the year,” Gill assured commissioners. “It’s labor intensive, so it would take about 90 days and results will come in April … we’ll start plugging away at that.”