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Bay Oaks updates needed infrastructure

July 12, 2017
Jessica Salmond - News Editor ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Bay Oaks Recreation Center is the summer's coolest place to be.

The campus is in the middle of a three-week project to replace its aging air conditioning units will all-new equipment.

It's a project that's been on the to-do list since Lee County turned over control of the campus to the Town of Fort Myers Beach.

"We're looking forward to something that's been slated to be done since 2009," said Director Sean De Palma.

Bay Oaks operates on seven units, and each one is being replaced. The two biggest - 25 tons a piece - were installed last week. The remaining five will be put in and finished hopefully by next week, De Palma said.

To his knowledge, the AC has never been updated.

Before the replacement process began, De Palma said the units were in pretty bad shape. Only one of the bigger ones was functioning, and only at 25 percent. Of the smaller ones, two barely worked and the other three were sufficient. Even though the three working units were doing okay, De Palma said it was better to replace them all at the same time.

"We're starting with a clean slate," he said.

The replacement project costs approximately $100,000.

Bay Oaks will have other expenses on the horizon, too. De Palma said the next project will be to replace the floor in the gym. The staff at Bay Oaks attempted to start the project in 2015, but it never came to fruition, he said. De Palma is going to propose a rubber flooring that is cheaper than hardwood and long lasting. The projected cost is between $180,000 to $200,000.

Capital improvement projects, such as the AC units and the flooring, are expense items that De Palma hopes to start planning for, rather than fitting into the budget each year.

Many facilities like Bay Oaks have a long-term capital improvement plan, a list of upcoming expense items that are budgeted out five years or more so the organization can save up each year to pay for them.

When De Palma started at Bay Oaks last year, there was no CIP in place. He's been developing a long-range plan, extending beyond five years out, to get a handle on what kind of projects the town will have to pay for to keep Bay Oaks up to date.

"It's a fundamental factor in not only current operation but future operation," De Palma said. "It's a structure that's aging. We need to maintain what we have and promote growth in the facility."

He's already submitted a budget and a CIP to Town Manager Roger Hernstadt for review as Hernstadt prepares the town budget. De Palma said he was glad the manager and he were on the same page.

"I was pleased the new manager has the foresight that we need to invest each year for these projects," De Palma said.

A CIP budget helps more prudently manage taxpayer dollars, he said. If the town puts aside small increments on money for Bay Oaks projects each year, then there is enough to pay for them at a future date.

"When the goal arises to begin that project, we would have saved up that money instead of putting a burden of an expensive item in our one-year budget," De Palma said.

In next year's budget, De Palma is hoping to have some marketing projects to help promote Bay Oaks. But some of those projects might get covered by a grants, thanks to a little help from the Friends of Bay Oaks group.

The nonprofit formed last summer to help financially support the campus, such as finding and applying for grants, for specific projects as well as provide a volunteer source. Now, volunteers helped write two grants that, if won, would give Bay Oaks $40,000.

Denise Monahan, the president of the group, said the Friends applied for one grant geared toward marketing, and another toward a CIP project.

"We're hoping to use those marketing dollars to bring in folks who many not be familiar with our facility," she said.

The second grant would be used to purchase tablets and a media cart, which could be used by both children and teens in Bay Oaks' afterschool programs or by senior members during education classes.

"I'm sharpening my grant-writing skills," Monahan said.



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