The plan to build a pool at SPJST Lodge 88 in the Heights has received a wave of support from members and its statewide parent organization, which endorsed the idea at a meeting last month in Temple. So the project continues to swim toward fruition, with another lap likely to be completed Feb. 18, when lodge members can vote to approve the proposal and push it to the design phase.
The most vocal opponent of the project, meanwhile, says she has been pushed aside.
Kathlyn Curtis, a former Heights resident who joined the Czech fraternal organization in 2017, has publicly criticized the proposal and tried to rally support against it. She claims the community center was targeted and infiltrated by a group of area families looking to create an exclusive swimming club. Curtis said the pool’s funding structure and usage parameters are aimed at shutting out most of the 4,000-plus members of the longstanding lodge, known for its charitable work, youth activities and popular Thursday night bingo games.
Now Curtis has effectively been shut out of the lodge. Its five-person grievance committee, in a letter to Curtis dated Jan. 17, told her it was unanimously upholding an expulsion request and that she was not allowed to attend lodge meetings or functions “or involve any media regarding Lodge 88 or this committee’s decision.”
Shortly thereafter, however, Curtis said she was called by grievance committee chairperson Melissa Brown and told the decision was being tabled. President Brian Vanicek of the Supreme Lodge, which oversees the local organization, said last week that Curtis “remains a member” of the Heights lodge.
Curtis is avoiding the premises at 1435 Beall St. until she receives a formal retraction letter and also said her husband, Nick Curtis, received a letter saying he was suspended from the lodge for one year. She said their 6-year-old son, Jean-Luc, continues to attend youth functions at the lodge but has been dropped off and picked up by people other than this parents.
“It’s a very weird situation,” said Kenneth Mlcak, a longtime Lodge 88 member and former chairman of its board of trustees.
While Kathlyn Curtis continues to express her disapproval, saying the lodge will lose its property tax exemption and lose out on growth opportunities if it proceeds with the pool plan, the plan is proceeding nonetheless. The lodge’s swim club committee, formally created at the annual member meeting in December, created a limited liability corporation to manage the pool and presented a management agreement to the Supreme Lodge on Jan. 23 in Temple. The parent organization gave the go-ahead for the plan to be taken to the local membership for a vote at its upcoming monthly meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m. Feb. 18.
Vanicek said the Supreme Lodge, which maintains veto authority, is in the process of vetting the plan to make sure it complies with Texas Insurance Code guidelines for fraternal benefit societies and would not cost the local lodge its tax exemption. Members join the lodge by purchasing a life insurance policy from the organization.
“Based on the information we have at hand, based on legal consultation, what they’re doing is correct,” Vanicek said. “Even at that, we still want to have the Texas Department of Insurance come in and take a look at the documents.”
The plan calls for an eight-lane, 25-yard heated outdoor pool, along with other capital improvements such as a playground and basketball court, to be built in the lodge’s backyard and funded by swim club members who have pledged to pay $6,000 refundable deposits as well as annual dues of $1,000 for operating costs. The swim club is limited to 410 members, who will be the only lodge members with regular access to the pool, while hundreds more community members have joined a swim club waiting list but haven’t yet joined the lodge.
After concerns were raised about limited pool access among the general lodge membership, swim club membership was offered to any existing lodge member who joined before 2017. Swim club committee chairman Aaron Rigamonti said the pool also will be made available to the lodge’s youth club and for water aerobics classes conducted for a fee, while general lodge members can earn day passes by volunteering for the lodge’s charitable missions.
“We thought that was a really creative and effective way to get people to have an active role in the lodge, more so than just so they can participate in the swimming pool,” Vanicek said.
Rigamonti, president of the former Heights Swim and Social Club, joined the lodge about a year ago and has spearheaded the pool plan while becoming a vice president and member of its board of trustees. He said the proposal for the pool, while suiting those who are willing to pay for it, also will benefit the lodge membership at large.
Out of the $6,000 to be paid by each swim club member, Rigamonti said $1,000 will go into a general fund to be used at the discretion of the lodge’s board of directors.
“These are investments in our lodge that everybody gets to benefit from,” Rigamonti said.
Rigamonti hopes the general membership will view a pool in the same light and approve the plan to put one in. If that happens, he said the project will enter the detail design phase, with construction and permitting to follow. The goal is to have a pool built and open for use by the summer of 2020.
Curtis said a new pool – the lodge previously had one that was built in the 1960s and removed in the 1990s – could be a good recruiting tool for the lodge. It already has been, with many of the few hundred swim club members having joined the lodge within the last year.
But because spots in the swim club already have been claimed, new lodge members who are not already on the waiting list will not have the opportunity to join the swim club under the proposed plan.
Curtis sees that as problematic. She said she’s considering filing a lawsuit against the lodge on the premise that members of a fraternal benefit society cannot be restricted from utilizing its assets.
“It’s a big mistake and it’s going to cause havoc,” she said.