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Plans for two new YMCAs come together

(ran PC edition of PT)

In New Tampa, 1999 should be the year residents finally get their own YMCA facility. And if Town 'N Country residents can agree at a meeting this month that they want a YMCA, it should follow by early 2000.

That's the latest word from Bob Gilbertson, president and CEO of Tampa Metropolitan YMCA.

Previously, Gilbertson was hopeful that New Tampa's YMCA, which will be in Tampa Palms near Compton Park, would be completed by September. Permitting dilemmas have pushed that target back, but the schedule suggests completion by year's end.

Though not all of the New Tampa facility's features have been confirmed yet, it will include a long course swimming pool, 50 meters in length and 25 yards in width. The length is for events of Olympic measure, the width for events of collegiate measure, allowing the facility to schedule multiple events at the same time, Gilbertson said.

"What's really great is you could have a short course (event) with a whole lot of kids at one end, and still have water aerobics in the other end," he said. "It's that kind of programming we want to do."

The facility, which will sit on eight acres, also will include a teen center, and organizers will consider including an exploratory preschool with recreational themes, modeled after a program recently initiated in west Pasco County.

While the YMCA program in Tampa includes plans for ball fields and the like, they might be built on another property, not necessarily next to the main facility's property.

In Town 'N Country, the question has long been whether the community definitely wanted a YMCA. Gilbertson said he'll look for a definitive answer from residents at a meeting this month. If reaction is positive, the YMCA has focused on a county-owned area on Waters Avenue just west of Sheldon Avenue that appears promising.

The land runs next to the channel and will be close to both a new high school scheduled for the former police pistol range off Montague Avenue and an extension of the Upper Tampa Bay Trail.

The county has approved $2.1-million in community investment tax money to help build a community center in Town 'N Country. But the county does not want to operate such a facility, which is why Gilbertson believes a YMCA would be the right choice. He also can provide something the county will not: a swimming pool.

"One of the things the county doesn't want is (to operate) a swimming pool," Gilbertson said. "When Town 'N Country came back to (considering) the Y, one of the driving reasons was swimming pools."

One of the problems Town 'N Country faces, he said, is that investment tax money might not become available for a couple of years. The YMCA, meanwhile, is planning a financing package that would allow it to build a facility as soon as this year.

The final component to Gilbertson's pitch is that the YMCA would come at no additional cost to taxpayers; only members would pay. And those who could not afford memberships could still use the facility through the YMCA's scholarship plans, which would satisfy the county's concern that no residents be turned away.

"When you look at the facts," Gilbertson said, "the logical argument sets the stage for us to go ahead and do this."

If the YMCA gets the go-ahead this month, he said, financing should be put together by this summer, with construction following quickly. He is optimistic the facility could open either in January or May of 2000.

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