There’s a lot of finger-pointing going on, but the bottom line is the YMCA is no longer in Sealy, leaving former Youth Development Director Betsy Zapalac without a job and local children without Little Dribblers, flag football, ballet and karate programs – at least for now.
Trouble has been brewing for years, and when asked where the blame lies, at least one public official replied, “With everybody.”
The city opted to go with a different management firm for the local pool, and announced in May that Katy-based Aquatico would be handling swim programs.
The school district issued a request for qualifications for a new after-school program and opted to go with “After 3” because they “felt that it provided a better option for our families,” according to Superintendent Sheryl Moore.
“Not only do they provide affordable after school care, they also offer before-school care on-site, a service that many of our parents need,” Moore said. “The additional flexibility provided by this option made the After 3 proposal more attractive than what was proposed by the YMCA, so we went with them.”
The YMCA provided a bid for the after-school program, which was their most lucrative local program but were not selected, explained Omoiye Kinney, who handles public relations for the Greater Houston YMCA.
“Earlier this year we lost the [pool] contract with the city and we weren’t able to come to terms,” Kinney said. “Another provider was selected for the after-school program. We were really only serving about a dozen families with youth sports. We’ve been in Sealy since 2008 and we’ve had absolutely no problems. We want to continue to be partners. We want to continue to re-engage, but we want to do it in the most effective way for the Y and the community.”
Numerous programs are offered in Katy that would be open to Sealy residents, Kinney added, adding that there is no bad blood; it just didn’t make sense to continue programs with such low participation.
Sealy ISD school board president Ryan Reichardt said last week that he worked closely with T.J. Mills and Mark Chapman – both now deceased – and former City Manager Chris Coffman to bring YMCA programs to Sealy.
“We did whatever we could to support them,” he said. “Little Dribblers basketball has been in Sealy for 25 years. We put it under the Y umbrella so it didn’t have to rely so heavily on volunteers.”
Current City Manager Lloyd Merrell said there are opportunities to revive some of the programs through volunteers.
As previously reported by The Sealy News, the city was offered a $1.5 million grant from the Mark Chapman Foundation contingent upon starting construction of a new building by April 2017. When the city failed to meet that obligation, they reimbursed the YMCA a portion of those funds – about $1.3 million – but some money already had been spent on architectural fees.
“They didn’t give us all our money back,” Reichardt told The Sealy News about a year ago on behalf of the Chapman Foundation. “The city controlled our funds and paid the architect more than $120,000 we did not agree with. The project was within the budget, but when they reversed their original decision and didn’t accept the land from David Cryan, that changed the plan, increased costs and shut everything down. The original estimate was in 2012 or 2013. They’re the ones who changed the plan and the cost goes up. They so badly mismanaged it. It doesn’t cost the same as it did five years ago.”
The announcement last week brought up the old argument in which some city officials cite the school district as the reason why the YMCA left town, and some school officials blame the city.
Superintendent Moore said the district supports the YMCA and did not mention the city in a written statement issued late last week.
“Sealy ISD has always been a strong supporter of the YMCA,” she said. “We have freely offered our gyms, fields, and other facilities for YMCA sports programs because we see the benefit it provides for our students and families. The YMCA after school program has always been presented to us as a totally separate entity from than the athletic programs. We dealt with different directors and had different agreements. The YMCA has never indicated to us that the two programs were dependent on one another, financially or otherwise. Every decision we make is made with the intention of providing the best opportunities for the students and families we serve. I am disappointed that the YMCA has chosen to leave Sealy.”
Sealy Mayor Janice Whitehead also attributed the matter to being a decision of the YMCA – not contingent on any actions by the city or school board.
“In May the City of Sealy was informed by YMCA Executive Director Greg Coop that to due resulting damages from Hurricane Harvey, ‘We are not able to move forward contractually with the city of Sealy and management of the city pool … We plan to continue offering sports and after-school programs, and will focus on improving the quality of our offerings. The [YMCA] plan[s] to continue running programs in Sealy. We are not walking away from the community.’ However, on Aug. 7, the YMCA announced the sudden closure of the Sealy YMCA facility and the cessation of all sports programs. Due to this announcement, the city of Sealy is currently coordinating with various members of the public interested in establishing additional after-school programs. The city will continue to oversee the swimming pool facility and will again subcontract the summer aquatic programs to outside vendors. This decision is an internal YMCA business decision.”
Whitehead asked the questions about the matter be directed to YMCA Executive Director Greg Coop. Calls to Coop placed by The Sealy News were returned by Kinney, the Y’s public relations official.