ATTLEBORO — The decision to close the high school pool in the wake of the new high school construction project prompted the Attleboro YMCA to offer its pools to the Attleboro Bluefish Swim Club, which otherwise would have been left floundering without a home.
The Bluefish, a for-profit business, accepted the offer and will be paying rent to the Y, which in turn will help the non-profit North Main Street organization cover pool expenses which are a drain on the budget.
But the club will also take over the Y’s Tsunami swim team and that’s caused a wave of controversy.
Some Y parents are upset and charged that the fees assessed by the Bluefish are too high for a swim program housed by a non-profit, and that the club is geared toward more competitive swimmers as opposed to youngsters who want to swim for fun.
One now former Y member, Kim Askew, whose 13-year-old son was a Tsunami member, was blunt and said “most parents” are looking for other options.
“A for-profit, ultra-competitive and pricey swim club is taking over the Attleboro YMCA’s competitive swim program,” Askew said in an email to The Sun Chronicle. “Our son will not be joining Bluefish because it is not a program that meets the needs of children who prefer a more recreational type of swim team, which also kind of goes against (the Y’s) mission statement.”
Askew charged the Y provided little notice of the merger of the programs.
A member since 2002, Askew and family quit the Attleboro Y and joined the Newman Y in Seekonk as a result. She argued a for-profit company should not be running a non-profit’s swim program.
However, Y Chief Executive Officer Robin McDonald said having a for-profit business with a particular specialty run a program at the Y is not unprecedented. Both a karate school and a dance school have offered programs in the past, she said.
McDonald acknowledged that the change came fast, but said that was because no one anticipated the high school pool would be shut down so soon.
She didn’t expect that to happen until the new high school opens in 2022.
“It’s important for folks to know it caught everyone off guard,” McDonald said. “This was unanticipated. We thought it wouldn’t happen to 2022 or 2023.”
School department finance director Marc Furtado said construction of the new high school just feet from the old one on Rathbun Willard Drive meant that underground pool plumbing in the main parking lot had to be torn up immediately to make way for the foundation of the new $260 million building, and it was too expensive to replace to keep the pool open.
He said there was “substantial cost to reroute the plumbing.”
So the decision was made to close the pool, leaving the Bluefish Club, which has rented it for practices for years, high and dry.
AHS and Bishop Feehan High School swim teams were also left in the lurch.
As a result, McDonald said the Y reached out to all three teams to offer its facility.
“Who better to meet that need than the Y,” she said. “It’s part of our obligation to the community.”
AHS accepted the offer and will pay rent of $7,500.
The Bluefish, which is owned by husband-and-wife team Charles and Christina Batchelor of Atteboro, also accepted and will also pay rent.
Neither the Y nor the Batchelors would reveal the amount to be paid by the Bluefish, but the club paid the city $46,800 last year to rent the high school pool, according to Furtado.
That amount was more than it cost the city to run the pool, which ran between $30,000 to $40,000 a year, Furtado said.
Meanwhile, the Batchelors said they are not in the swimming business to get rich.
“If you saw our books, you’d see we’re barely profitable,” Chuck Batchelor said. “We didn’t get into this to make a lot of money, we got into it because we love swimming.”
When the Bluefish decided to go to the Y, McDonald said it made sense to merge the swim teams.
She said the professional coaches provided by the Bluefish will enhance the experience of the former Tsunami swimmers.
McDonald said it was tough to keep part-time and less- experienced swim coaches. Most had other jobs and when things got too difficult they’d quit, she said.
“It was challenging to keep people in the job,” she said.
Allegations were made that the Y “fired” all their swim coaches when the merger was finalized, but McDonald said she wouldn’t comment on personnel matters.
Chuck Batchelor once trained Olympian Elizabeth Beisel, who was a medalist in the 2012 Olympics.
Beisel, a Rhode Island resident, was a member of the Bluefish in her younger years.
There are five employees of the Bluefish including Charles and Christine and all are full-time professional swimming coaches, Charles Batchelor said.
The Bluefish have about 140 swimmers and the Y about 40.
The main fee charged by the Bluefish, $2,925, is roughly twice that charged by the Y, McDonald said.
However, Y members from Attleboro and Norton will get a permanent 50 percent discount.
Both McDonald and the Batchelors said the Y youngsters would be paying $40 to $50 more than before.
In addition, the Y provides financial help for its programs if a family has a demonstrated need, she said.
While Askew was concerned about the competitive nature of the Bluefish, the Batchelors said the club accommodates swimmers of all kinds, whatever their aspirations.
“Fun and recreation fit in with the Bluefish program,” Christina Batchelor said.
She noted that all swimmers get to try the club out for at least two weeks to see if they like it before committing to it.
And Charles Batchelor said kids are not required to be swimmers only.
“We encourage kids to have other interests,” he said.
“I do believe that any of the families willing to stick it out will be pleasantly surprised.”