Omaha Public Schools and the YMCA of Greater Omaha have hammered out how they will pay for and share facilities like the pool at a new high school in northwest Omaha.
The district is building the school at 156th and Ida Streets, and it is set to open for the 2022-23 school year. Attached to the school will be a YMCA that will share some space with the school but also will have its own exclusive space.
Thursday night, the school board approved a 50-year agreement with the YMCA outlining construction and operating costs and usage of the facilities once completed.
The agreement was on the board's consent agenda and was approved without discussion.
The YMCA’s 16-member board already has approved the agreement, said Chris Tointon, president and CEO of YMCA of Greater Omaha.
“We look forward to the next 50 years and creating stronger, healthier and happier families,” Tointon told the board.
OPS Superintendent Cheryl Logan said she and Tointon had gotten to know each other well and at times “had spirited and vigorous discussions to ensure it is the best possible partnership for both organizations.”
For this project, the devil has been in the details, Logan said.
In February 2018, the school board voted 9-0 to approve a project list for a $409.9 million bond issue that included a pool at the 156th and Ida high school. It was to be part of a tentative partnership between OPS and the YMCA. At the time, OPS and the YMCA signed a letter of intent, but that letter did not directly address usage or cost of the facility.
Letters and emails obtained by The World-Herald through a records request show that initially, OPS and the YMCA were millions of dollars apart on how much the YMCA would contribute.
The total cost to build more than just a high school — the YMCA’s exclusive space and the shared-use area including the pool, furniture, equipment and supplies — is $13.5 million.
OPS committed $4 million of bond construction funds for the larger facilities and the swimming pool. The remaining $9.5 million is to be covered by the YMCA and private donors.
According to the agreement, the YMCA and private donors will contribute $8.5 million during construction and $1 million for furniture and equipment. Additionally, the YMCA will pay OPS $162,000 per year for operating expenses.
Tointon said his organization is $1 million away from reaching its commitment of $9.5 million. He said none of the donors is interested in being anything but anonymous. The agreement does allow the YMCA to put up signage recognizing significant donors.
OPS can terminate the agreement with the YMCA, but it would have to repay the YMCA $8.5 million contribution.
The YMCA portion of the facility will have its own changing rooms, locker rooms, offices, reception area, certain fitness areas, child watch area, showers, sauna and steam room.
OPS and the YMCA will share the swimming pool, main gymnasium, auxiliary gym, wrestling room, weight and fitness room, dance and aerobics room, storage, laundry and outdoor fields.
According to the agreement, approximately 18,077 square feet will be exclusive space for the YMCA, and approximately 14,249 square feet of space will be jointly used by the YMCA and the district.
YMCA members will be able to use the YMCA facilities between 4:30 a.m. and 10 p.m., seven days a week. The shared-use areas will be available to the YMCA depending on the sports season and needs of the school.
Each year for the first 15 years of the agreement, the YMCA will give free swim lessons to up to 250 OPS students who are eligible for free and reduced-price lunch. Students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch also will have priority scholarship assistance for YMCA memberships and programming.
Tointon said his organization saw a hole in the wellness community in northwest Omaha and didn’t see other organizations stepping up.
He said the YMCA has hundreds of partnerships but nothing to the extent of what his organization is doing with OPS.
The school doesn’t yet have a name, colors or a mascot.
The YMCA and high school will have a complimentary color scheme, but because the YMCA facility will serve more than OPS students and their families, it won’t necessarily match the colors of the school, Tointon said.