Council divided on spending $3M to build aquatic center at Atrium YMCA

Three members vote for Middletown to spend ARPA funds; 8 residents voice concerns.

MIDDLETOWN — By the summer of 2025, local residents wanting to swim will have another option.

During a volatile, five-hour City Council meeting Tuesday night, three of the five members approved the city spending $3 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to build a public aquatics park at the Atrium YMCA.

City Manager Paul Lolli said the city also will seek grants and corporate sponsors to offset the cost of building the pool and reduce the ARPA funds spent.

Mayor Elizabeth Slamka voted against the legislation, and council member Jennifer Carter, a YMCA board member, abstained. As expected, Vice Mayor Zack Ferrell and council members Paul Horn and Steve West II supported the project.

Slamka said now is “not the right time” for an aquatic center in the city because there are “so many needs.”

West II said the “right time” to build the center was two years ago when construction costs would have saved the city $500,000.

The aquatic center is expected to open by May 2025 and will be operated by the Great Miami Valley YMCA, according to city documents. The YMCA will be responsible for all future operation and maintenance of the aquatic center, built at 5750 Innovation Drive, according to the ordinance.

During the citizen comment portion of the meeting, eight residents, mostly board members of SplashDown Middletown Water Park, the other aquatic option council was considering, spoke for their allotted four minutes against the YMCA plan.

Most of their concerns centered on the Atrium YMCA’s location in the East End, what they said was a long drive for most Middletown residents; the cost of a Y membership; and city funds financially supporting a religious organization.

Middletown resident Howard Johnson said the East End location “stinks quite frankly,” and the city should consider other locations, including Smith Park.

Ben Yoder, the city’s law director, said it’s a common practice and legal for public funds to support a religious organization.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Journal-News received an email response from the SplashDown Middletown Water Park board. In part, it read: “After many recent conversations and contacts, the board of Splashdown Middletown, has found no indication that the city has previously given millions of dollars to any private sector organization. The splashdown organization will continue our efforts to bring a state-of-the-art aquatic center, designed to provide a water-based center for the families of Middletown.”

Mike Bramer, CEO and president of the Great Miami Valley YMCA, attended Tuesday’s meeting with Tyler Roberts, district executive director.

On Wednesday morning, Bramer told the Journal-News it’s the practice of the Y to adjust the cost of memberships based on a family’s total income, starting at $65,000 and below. The Membership For All program will make the Y “a very economically family activity” for most individuals, he said.

According to the agreement, for a period of 20 years, Middletown residents will be given a discounted rate of $5 per youth and $10 per adult for daytime admission passes to the facility.

Also, Bramer said, those who join the Y will be eligible to use the downtown location and all its amenities.

The Y also offers free child watch service so families can enjoy the pool while Y staff cares for their young children, he said. That service removes “another barrier” for families, he said.

Since the YMCA has agreed to cover all expenses related to operation and maintenance of the pool, Bramer said, “There are risks for us, but we see this as part of our mission.”

Bramer expects the pool to serve 300 Middletown families every summer.

Dora Bronston, a former Middletown vice mayor and board member of SplashDown Middletown, said the council, with four first-year members, lacks “neither basic knowledge nor experience” on council and isn’t prepared to spend ARPA funds without a feasibility study.

Another board member, Adriane Scherrer, who served as the mayor’s campaign treasurer, pushed for a $25,000 feasibility study on an aquatic center and said “it really frightens me that rush to judgment would happen.”


  • YMCA will ensure it has received at least two bids from qualified contractors and that it selects the contractor that it deems best qualified to perform the project for the price quoted.
  • YMCA will make regular reports to the city regarding the expenditure of funds and the status of construction, and must comply with all other ARPA reporting and administrative requirements.
  • YMCA will ensure construction of the facility will be completed in time for a May 2025 opening to the public, absent unforeseen events.
  • Post-construction, YMCA will be obligated to keep and maintain the facility in a good, clean, operational condition at all times.
  • YMCA covenants that the facility will be open for use by Middletown residents seasonally during summer months and otherwise in accordance with the YMCA’s general policies and procedures.
  • For a period of 20 years, Middletown residents will be given a discounted rate of $5 per youth and $10 per adult for daytime admission passes to the facility.
  • In order for the city to keep tabs on the investment it has made, YMCA will meet with the city semi-annually to report on usage, operational issues, YMCA’s maintenance of the facility, etc.

SOURCE: City of Middletown

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