YMCA stumbled while deciding to close its facilities
The Kansas City Star
Two weeks from today the YMCA of Greater Kansas City plans to close branches in Raytown, Independence and downtown Kansas City, Kan. The sudden decision, announced just this month, has justifiably angered people who have used the facilities for years.
The YMCA should have contacted officials in the communities earlier, when it might have been possible to do more to keep the branches open. Much of the angst comes from Raytown, where the center is only 15 years old and has the most members of those being shuttered.
“We might have been able to work with them,” Raytown School Superintendent Allan Markley said. His district’s swim teams practice and host meets at the Richard C. Green Sr. Family YMCA. Raytown Mayor David Bower earlier had expressed a similar sentiment about cooperation. But a city official said Thursday afternoon that the YMCA’s recent proposals to keep the branch open were too costly to consider at this point.
Other Raytown residents claim the YMCA is abandoning eastern Jackson County so it can build a large new downtown facility, a proposal that was announced at the same time as the closings.
It is encouraging that a large YMCA could become another key to a revived downtown by 2016. It would serve a diverse population including office workers, younger residents, and senior citizens. YMCA officials say the decision to close the three branches was separate from the plan to build downtown and to improve another YMCA on Kansas City’s East Side.
But the positive downtown proposal does not take the sting out of the losses elsewhere.
In Raytown, critics make several noteworthy points: The community raised a good deal of money to help build the center, which was placed on donated land, and entrusted its care to the YMCA. Yet YMCA officials say the facility has about $2 million in deferred maintenance.
YMCA chief executive David Byrd defended his agency’s actions Thursday.
He says the YMCA couldn’t afford the status quo. A long internal study that looked at all YMCA facilities concluded that those in Raytown, Independence and Kansas City, Kan., had been losing members, were not expected to gain members and had large amounts of deferred maintenance. He said the YMCA had tried various membership drives at the Raytown facility, offered scholarships to serve lower-income members and cut staff, but still couldn’t make the books balance.
On Feb. 21, the YMCA’s board of directors set the closing date of April 12, Byrd said, because the organization didn’t want to lose much more money in keeping the three branches open. The YMCA then reached out to the affected communities. “We told them as soon as we knew,” Byrd said.
We think the YMCA could and should have done more earlier to talk to key elected and community leaders.
For instance, the Raytown branch for years had been losing members who instead were using new community centers in Lee’s Summit or private workout facilities. YMCA officials should have been more proactive with Raytown’s leaders, who did not know the extent of the financial trouble at a place used by many seniors. These discussions might have found an innovative way to keep the facility open — or helped the YMCA provide more convincing public proof that closing was the right thing to do.
The YMCA never wants to shut down its facilities, Byrd said. Given that sentiment, YMCA officials could have more aggressively tried to stop that from happening in three Kansas City communities.