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Progress on Bringing YMCA to Watauga ‘Not Very Far Along,’ Catawba Valley CEO Presents at Retreat

By Paul T. Choate

Bob Conklin, Catawba Valley YMCA CEO, speaks Watauga County Commissioners’ during their annual two-day retreat. Photo by Paul T. Choate
Bob Conklin, Catawba Valley YMCA CEO, speaks Watauga County Commissioners’ during their annual two-day retreat. Photo by Paul T. Choate

Feb. 22, 2013. Discussion of bringing a YMCA to Watauga County continued today at the Watauga County Commissioners’ annual two-day retreat. Bob Conklin, Catawba Valley YMCA CEO, spoke with commissioners regarding where they are in the process and also presented the results of a Y Site Analysis survey that was completed on Feb. 18.

Conklin told commissioners that, based on the results of their survey, approximately 900 households would join a Y in Watauga County if one were built.

“I don’t think it’s conclusive, but it tells us the information we wanted to hear,” he said. “That’s not enough for us at this point to think it would be successful.”

Conklin said they would like to see somewhere in the range of 1,200 to ideally 2,000 households join, but emphasized that the discouraging survey results do not effective kill plans for a local Y.

He said the three main things he heard people say they wanted in the county is a better aquatics facility, teen programs and child care for small children. Also, based on a poll conducted by High Country Press, Conklin noted that after 519 responses there was 89 percent support for a local Y.

The ideal Y would be 35,000 square feet on 10 to 15 acres, but that may not be what the future holds. Commissioner David Blust noted that it wouldn’t necessarily have to be a full-scale, “ideal” Y and that a smaller facility might be the way to go.

Conklin said starting with a “storefront” Y rather than a full facility to build up their reputation in the community and get people interested might also be effective.

As is always the case, money and site location were the two main hang-ups. Conklin said in order to be successful they are going to have to have some support from the County Commissioners.

County Commissioner Chairman Nathan Miller said while the county might consider giving up some land for the Y, money was a different story. He also noted that any parcel of land the county could potentially give the Y would not be 10 to 15 acres.

“Throwing money and land at something that is not going to be under our control — I don’t know that that’s necessarily something we would want to do,” Miller said.

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Site location is also in question. The vacant land that at one time was to be used for a recreation center at Watauga High School has been considered for the location of a Y. Conklin, however, cited concerns over parking during school hours if one were built there.

Other places such as some tracts of land in the Brookshire area were discussed, but County Manager Deron Geouque noted that if the facility was built outside of town it would not have access to public water and sewer or natural gas lines, which would likely cause financial strain.

“We’re not very far along,” Conklin said, in response to a question by Miller.

Commissioner Billy Kennedy summed it up, saying it seemed like the County Commissioners were interested in bringing a Y to Watauga, but that they still had some concerns. Miller said he wanted to keep the discussion going in the future.

“The first step going forward is to create a Steering Committee. Prospective members should be YMCA proponents within our community,” said St. Clair and Brian Lowe, executive director of the Hope Pregnancy Resource Center and Watauga YMCA advocate, in an email on Jan. 3. 

A steering committee formation meeting was held on Jan. 10, but the committee was not formed at the meeting and thus far has still not been formed, Conklin said. He said things were still in the “fact finding” stage. Once a steering committee is formed, they will be tasked with raising upwards of $1 million to get the ball rolling for a Watauga Y.

According to Conklin, the ideal Y for Watauga County would cost approximately $6 million to $7 million. The first $1 million would have to be raised by the community or come from donors in order to cover operating expenses for the facility during the first three years after opening. During that time, the community would need to come up with the other $5 million to $6 million.

Asked after the meeting how he felt it went, Conklin replied, “I think it went okay. It was kind of more, from my perspective, an introduction to them as a group and to let them know what we’re doing and what we want to do. I think in order for us to have a Y here we’re going to need them a little bit. We’ll see how that plays out. I know they don’t know us and I know tax dollars are hard to come by.

“This is going to take time and we know that. It doesn’t happen overnight. If it did there would be a Y on every corner. We’re prepared to help and do what we can as long as they’re prepared to help us too,” he said.

To stay up to date on all the happenings as the attempt to bring a Y continues, email blowe@choosehope.org to be added to the email list.

For previous stories on the Watauga YMCA effort, visit hcpress.com/tag/watauga-county-ymca.