WEST CHESTER, PA — ACAC Fitness and Wellness Center beat out the YMCA in a bid to provide swimming and diving facilities for high schools in West Chester, PA.

The West Chester Area School District will pay the ACAC $65,000 a year to use ACAC's aquatic facilities, including a 25-yard pool and diving wells. The school district also will pay ACAC about $5,000 a year to cover taxes, insurance costs and maintenance of a parking lot. ACAC will renovate the aquatic facilities by 2006. The agreement will last 39 years and 9 months — the maximum length allowed by the state. After nine years, the lease can be cancelled with four years' notice.

ACAC won the proposal after the school board voted down a proposal by the YMCA of Brandywine Valley. That proposal would have involved the sale of 12 acres of school district land to the YMCA of Brandywine Valley for $1 million for the purpose of building an aquatic facility for YMCA members and district students. That proposal faced strong opposition, including threats of legal action against the school if the proposal passed. Fred Greenberg, an attorney representing a coalition of individuals, businesses and health clubs (including ACAC) that would be adversely affected by the YMCA, wrote a letter threatening legal action if the board passed the YMCA proposal. The letter stated that the proposed sale price of the district's land was $1.4 million below market value, amounting to a subsidy to the YMCA.

“I would think it would have contributed to the decision,” said Greenberg of the letter and its impact on the school board's vote. “It pointed out a number of legal weaknesses.”

School Board President Roger Vaughn said other issues affected the vote. “The letter was pretty much ignored since we'd been in contact with our counsel since the beginning,” he said. “We were primarily uncertain as to whether we might need that land at some point for a middle school or elementary school.”

Vaughn also said that board members who voted it down were reluctant to sell the property for less than market value, and some didn't support expanding the swimming program.

“I personally thought the YMCA was the best option, but I don't have a problem partnering with a for-proft,” he said. “I think a good decision was made, even though it wasn't my first choice.”

Other community members were concerned that the YMCA facility would increase traffic and decrease safety.

“In our minds this is the beginning of a wonderful partnership with the school district,” said Charlie McDermott, managing partner of the 80,000-square-foot ACAC Fitness and Wellness Center. “This opens the doors for continual events and programs with the community.”

Open for a year and a half, the ACAC has more than 8,000 members and is ready for growth, said McDermott.

He said that ACAC members wouldn't be affected by swim team practice times since the high school teams would have a separate entrance and area, and practice times would be scheduled during slow times for the facility.

Currently, the high school swim team uses facilities at the West Chester Area YMCA, part of the regional branch of the YMCA Brandywine Valley, and at other private clubs and a local university.

Lee Bunting, executive director of the West Chester Area YMCA, said that his facility was looking at the land for a satellite facility downtown that would relieve overcrowding and parking problems. The proposed satellite center included a 50-meter pool and diving facilities. The West Chester Area YMCA currently has two, 25-meter pools.

“We're thankful for being included in the process,” Bunting said. “We will move on and continue to look for a new location for our project and wish ACAC the best of luck.”