Breeze Wetzel, a Bonney Lake resident and mother of two, spends a lot of time driving. Every week, she drives about 30 miles round-trip to take her two daughters to the Korum Family YMCA in Puyallup for swim lessons.
Over the next decade, if Wetzel wanted to take her kids to the YMCA, she’ll have two to choose from: a new, 50,000 sq. ft facility two miles down the road or another, equally new 60,000 facility further down SR 410 in Sumner.
While some may celebrate Wetzel’s expanded choices, others wonder if two towns with 27,000 people and even slimmer city budgets need a combined 100,000 sq. ft. of YMCA space, at $300 a square foot.
“The YMCA is a business, bottom line,” said Darren Proctor, chair of the Bonney Lake Park Board. “They may offer a lot of great programs, but not everything a community needs.”
Even so, Bonney Lake Mayor Neil Johnson has dedicated $1 million of city funds to building a YMCA and ; Sumner has raised over $5 million in local fundraising and community donations.
In Sumner, the Y is the centerpiece of the proposed Orton Junction, a 182-acre, mixed-use community on the Winco side of SR 167, currently outside the city’s urban growth area. Bonney Lake’s YMCA is planned in the area currently known as the WSU Demonstration Forest, almost 50 acres of forest land on the back side of Wal-Mart already zoned for development.
If all goes according to plan, the two facilities would be within five miles of each other.
“Sumner already has an incredible sense of community that goes back generations. It’s great to think of what it could do with a Y,” said Michelle LeRue, communications director for Pierce County YMCA. “And then in Bonney Lake, which has grown extensively, there’s a deep need for community. The YMCA could be the perfect facilitator for that.”
LaRue said the YMCA isn’t worried that the two facilities would be mere miles from each other – the Morgan Family and Tacoma Center YMCAs are 3.5 miles away from each other.
“Those two facilities are very complimentary to each other. People work out at the downtown location in the afternoon on their lunch breaks and take their kids to the Morgan Y for programs in the evening. There is no competition.”
Combined, the Morgan Family and Tacoma Center YMCAs serve a population of 20,000, compared to the 21,000 estimated customers in East Pierce.
City leaders, including Sumner Mayor Dave Enslow and Bonney Lake Mayor Neil Johnson, are advocates for the YMCA and say the two projects are needed to meet the regions’ growth and resident needs.
“We need a YMCA in town. There are so many kids today who don’t have outlets or things to do outside of school,” said Dave Enslow, mayor of Sumner. “The YMCA provides the community framework and morals that help kids make positive choices.”
The fight for a YMCA started to take hold in 2008, after residents in Sumner began voicing their concerns about a growing need for safe places for kids to hang out closer to home.
The YMCA is also a key component to the future development plans in both Sumner and Bonney Lake and could be seen as a regional draw, with potential members from neighboring towns like Enumclaw, Buckley and Orting. Also, when it comes to building costs, the YMCA covers 40 to 60 percent, with the local municipality and donations paying the rest, an investment in recreation and community without the taxpayer burden.
The YMCA is not a free organization, but it does subsidize $3.5 million in memberships across Pierce and Kitsap County. Even so, some worry that the people who would benefit most from a YMCA wont be able to access it.
During the , the council unanimously voted to support plans for a YMCA, against the recommendations of the Park Board, which supports a government-run community center.
“The difference between a community center and a YMCA is, the YMCA offers a narrow scope of services to its members,” said Proctor. “We feel a city-run facility could have a broader spectrum and serve our senior citizen, special needs and low-income populations better.”
The Bonney Lake Park Board sent a survey to 600 community members last year, asking their top priorities for parks and recreation projects. People said they wanted more trails, an athletic complex and community center or YMCA. The board also visited surrounding community centers and YMCA facilities to get a sense of what could happen in Bonney Lake.
While the Y pays for 40 to 60 percent of it’s project, Proctor found that most city-run community centers recover 75 to 80 percent of costs after construction.
For example, the City of Federal Way has a 72,000 sq. ft. community center that features two pools, a banquet hall, gymnasium and various activity rooms. Voters passed a $15 million bond to build the $21 million facility, which is currently funded through a 1 percent subsidy on resident utility taxes.
In terms of cost-recovery, Federal Way has recovered 87.6 percent of building costs since it opened in March 2007 according to Doug Nelson, community center supervisor for the Federal Way Community Center.
At the March 5 special meeting, Proctor asked the Bonney Lake City Council why they would want to buy a brand new car and give it away – why spend city dollars to build a facility and hand the keys over to someone else to drive?
City Administrator Don Morrison said the city would hand the keys over because they don’t want to drive it – the politics of a community center, the future cost burdens in an uncertain economy, are too risky to place entirely in government control.
But, some wonder whether it’s fair to ask residents to pay for the creation of a private organization.
"[Bonney Lake] wants to ask its residents for $8 million more for a YMCA, but not everyone who pays into the bond will be able to use it," said Proctor.
And those who will likely already have options, said Brent Mounds, general manager of Prime Fitness. Currently, there are over 15 fitness centers and gyms in Bonney Lake and Sumner combined.
“Why do we need two huge YMCAs when there are gyms already here? There are plenty of options already, I think this whole thing is about getting a pool,” said Brent Mounds, general manager of Prime Fitness. “It’s horrible for us, the YMCA is going to drive the local business out.”
Rebecca Giles, director of the Sumner-Bonney Lake Recreation Department, believes local families need a variety of local options.
“There needs to be more local options for people who can’t afford a gym membership,” said Giles. “We give scholarships to people, but they are afraid to ask for them. They don’t want us to know they’re having a hard time. There needs to be a place where there is no fee and somewhere for them to go.”
The Sumner School District has pledged support for a YMCA pool . However, Ann Cook, Sumner School District communications spokesperson, said there have been no official talks on what a district partnership with two facilities would look like.
LaRue defended the plan, saying said that the YMCA could help fill those unmet needs and each building tailors its programs to the community it serves.
“Before we open, we send a survey out to gauge what the residents want and need. We don’t want to offer things they don’t want,” said LaRue.
Still, that isn’t enough to satisfy Wetzel and the thousands of other local families that needed options yesterday. In 2007, the YMCA surveyed Bonney Lake and Sumner residents – 50 percent, or 25,000 people, said they wanted a YMCA.
Bored kids with limited local options have been at the forefront of discussions in community summits and public safety meetings – there is a local, immediate crisis that today’s teenagers won’t see resolved.