Editorial: Pondering a unique partnership

  • Visitors hit the weight room at the Concord Family YMCA in downtown Concord on Thursday, July 6, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Most of the nation’s supply of motor vehicles – more than 250 million were registered in 2015 – are parked about 95 percent of the time. Meanwhile, the payments continue, the interest accrues, and time and the elements eat away at what for most households is a significant investment.

To a lesser degree, the same thing is true of our nation’s schools. That’s just one of the reasons we’re intrigued by the proposal by Concord’s school district and the Concord YMCA to construct a joint facility when Rundlett Middle School is renovated or replaced.

About a dozen such partnerships exist around the United States, and all, in terms of the typical 50- or 60-year life of a school, are relatively new. But here’s what happened in Lincoln, Neb., where the school district is about to build its third school-Y facility.

Combining the projects eliminated 25,000 square feet of space that would have been duplicated had separate facilities been built. At a rough cost of $250 per square foot, that meant taxpayers and the nonprofit YMCA saved more than $6 million in up-front costs.

As Concord School District officials explained in a recent meeting with Monitor editors, a joint facility means things like heating, sprinkler and ventilation systems won’t have to be duplicated, and operations costs will be lower. It means more of both facilities will be in use for more of the time. Lincoln’s director of school district operations estimates the savings over the life of the schools will be in the tens of millions of dollars.

Peak times for schools and the Y differ. For schools, it’s from 7:30 or 8 in the morning to late afternoon. In Lincoln, the Y opens at 5 a.m. and closes at 11 p.m. Peak use is the early morning, at lunch, and in the evening. Unlike schools, Ys are open seven days a week, so the shared areas get much more use.

Plans for the Rundlett project are preliminary, but school and Y officials say the setup would probably be like the one in Lincoln, which they visited. There, the school and the Y share pools, gyms, a courtyard and other areas. Operating costs are shared. A typical system does so based on square footage and hours of operation of each facility. Doors are operated electronically. When school is open, the ones connected to the Y are locked. Security and child safety has not been an issue.

In Concord, the YMCA already operates before- and after-school programs in school facilities. That gives kids a safe place to play, learn and get breakfast or an after-school snack. In one school-Y partnership, every second-grader is offered free swimming lessons. Since drowning is the second leading cause of death for youths age 1 to 19, and the risk is higher for immigrants and minorities, that’s a vital service.

Concord school officials say combining Rundlett and a branch of the YMCA – the downtown Y would remain open – will save $1.6 million in construction costs. But more importantly, it will increase the opportunity for more children and their families to participate in Y programs, to meet new people and to make new friends. That builds community.

Many questions remain. Many meetings will have to be held. But a Rundlett-Y partnership sounds like a win for students, the Y, the school district and taxpayers.