Save Our Y: Part II
Greater Cleveland YMCA again votes to close West Side Y

By Chuck Hoven

(Plain Press, July 2004) The West Side YMCA at 3200 Franklin Avenue received notice on June 24 th, 2004 that the YMCA of Greater Cleveland Board of Trustees voted to close the branch by August 31 st. Given less than 24 hours notice, 75 supporters gathered at the West Side YMCA on Friday, June 25 th at 5 PM to plan a strategy to save the West Side YMCA and to receive answers to questions from the Chief Executive Officer of the Greater Cleveland YMCA.

Greater Cleveland YMCA Chief Executive Officer Glenn Haley, who had earlier agreed to come to the meeting, called an hour and a half before the meeting to cancel. He proposed instead to meet with area councilpersons and leaders from the West Side YMCA.

When Haley was told that the community was notified that he was coming to the meeting, Haley was quoted by Chris Warren as saying, “I will not come to the West Side for a community meeting, because it will be a circus.”

The Council representatives and leaders of the West Side YMCA refused to meet with Haley alone, they said West Side YMCA members had the right to hear from him in person his reasons for closing the branch.


June 25 meeting at West Side YMCA

Those gathered at the West Side YMCA on Friday, June 25 th called for the revival of the Save Our Y Committee, which completed a comprehensive plan to save the West Side Branch in 2003.

Only a year ago, the plan was unanimously approved by the Greater Cleveland YMCA and hailed as a national model for saving inner city YMCA branches. The Save Our Y Committee, Part II will meet at the West Side YMCA, 3200 Franklin at 7:15 PM this Wednesday, June 30, 2004 .

Chris Warren, a co-chair of the Save Our Y Committee, described to those gathered at the June 25 th meeting how the West Side YMCA learned of the closing and how the leadership of the Greater Cleveland YMCA has stifled communication with members of the West Side YMCA. Warren says a West Side YMCA board member was asked to call a coded number to a conference call on June 24 th. The conference call involved one way communication from Greater Cleveland YMCA Chief Executive Officer Glenn Haley describing actions taken by the Greater Cleveland YMCA concerning the West Side , Glenville and Union Miles YMCA branches that were reported in that morning’s Plain Dealer. Since the conference call involved one-way communication from Haley, there was no opportunity for questions or dialogue, says Warren .


Greater
Cleveland YMCA’s action

The Greater Cleveland YMCA had voted to close down the West Side branch by August 31 st and was pursuing talks with an unnamed agency about running another program elsewhere in the neighborhood.

Warren said the Greater Cleveland YMCA Board of Trustees had created three different classifications of YMCA. The first category was a full service branch, which would include a gym and pool. Branches with 1800 or more members would be placed in this category. The second category, a program branch, which Warren dubbed “ a second class branch” would have no gym or pool and would contract with another agency in the neighborhood to provide what at present are “totally undefined programs for young people.” The third category would be an even more vague entity called a “non-facilitiesbranch.”

Warren noted that the Greater Cleveland YMCA decision involves placing the West Side and Glenville YMCAs in second-class status, while keeping the status of the Union Miles YMCA unclear. However, he said the decision will impact other inner city YMCAs. If the Greater Cleveland YMCA is able to create second-class program branches, Warren predicted that other inner city branches such as the Brooklyn YMCA would soon be given second class status as well.


City Council members’ response


Five Cleveland City Council members were in attendance at the June 25 th meeting in a demonstration of their support to keep the YMCA branches open as full service facilities. They were Ward 13 Councilman Joe Cimperman, Ward 17 Councilman Matt Zone , Ward 20 Councilman Martin Sweeney, Ward 9 Councilman Kevin Conwell, and Ward 2 Councilman Robert White.

Ward 13 Councilman Joe Cimperman said the battle with the Greater Cleveland YMCA would be fought on political, legal and moral fronts. He said the community would win the battle because on every one of these fronts the community has the high ground.

Ward 17 Councilman Matt Zone accused the Greater Cleveland YMCA of wanting to unload the West Side YMCA for the money. “The West Side YMCA is the most valuable asset they have other than the Downtown YMCA. They just want to sell it off to make a quick buck, “ he said.

Save Our Y Committee/West Side YMCA Board of Trustees
Warren noted that the same Greater Cleveland YMCA Board of Trustees that was now voting to close the West Side YMCA and put the facility up for sale had one year ago “voted unanimously with applause to accept our plan, to support us, to back us.”

The plan Warren was referring to was the plan of the Save Our Y Committee titled, “100 more years of service, a community-based model for revitalizing the West Side YMCA.” Warren said members of the Save the Y Committee became members of the West Side YMCA Board of Trustees. They began to pursue the goals of the report. After years of not having a full-time director at the West Side branch, eight months ago the board hired Mike Hudak as a full-time director.

The board has diligently pursued other goals in the plan including setting up babysitting services at the branch, starting up after school programs and summer classes, and increasing membership. As a result, over 500 new members joined the West Side Y.

Warren noted that the Save Our Y Committed had recruited top-notch architects and construction companies to review the deferred capital improvement needs of the West Side YMCA facility. He said they provided a multi-page plan outlining $1.7 million in capital improvements for the facility. Neighborhood development experts – some of the best in the county – came up with a list of potential capital sources. Warren said that the Greater Cleveland YMCA Board of Trustees “asked us to step back and not pursue fundraising until they were ready to go forward. We still haven’t heard from them.”

At the last Board of Trustees Meeting of the West Side YMCA, Greater Cleveland YMCA CEO Glenn Haley was asked if he would be willing to sit down with the West Side YMCA Board of Trustees to review the plan approved a year ago by his board and “see if we are on plan.” Warren said Haley said “no” to the proposal. At the meeting Haley also refused to give the West Side YMCA board financial details demonstrating the cause of the $1.2 million deficit of the Greater Cleveland YMCA. Warren said Haley agreed to have his financial people go over the West Side YMCA budget with leaders of the West Side YMCA. That meeting has not yet taken place, says Warren .

At the time of the West Side YMCA Board Meeting rumors were already circulating that the Greater Cleveland YMCA was considering moving the programs to Zone recreation center and was negotiating with another community agency to run YMCA programs. So Haley was asked what the Greater Cleveland YMCA’s plan was for the future of the West Side YMCA. Warren said Haley refused to discuss the Greater Cleveland YMCA’s plan for the future of the West Side YMCA.

At the West Side YMCA Board of Trustees Meeting, Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization Executive Director Jeff Ramsey offered to work with the Greater Cleveland YMCA to find ways to restore the West Side YMCA facility. Haley reportedly thanked Ramsey, and said he would be happy to meet with him. On June 25 th Ramsey said Haley has not gotten back to him yet.


Next steps

Those in attendance at the June 25 th meeting were given contact information to express their concerns to Greater Cleveland YMCA CEO Glenn Haley, Greater Cleveland YMCA Chairman James Petras and former Greater Cleveland YMCA Chairman Donald Strang III.

Warren said a member of the Save Our Y Committee is also pursuing two key legal points on behalf of West Side YMCA members.

One is to review the title of the land to see if there were any deed restrictions placed on the land when it was donated to the YMCA.

The second area of legal actions involves a possible class action against the Greater Cleveland YMCA on behalf of members of the West Side YMCA who became members, renewed membership, and raised cash and pledges while believing they were participating in saving the West Side facility. If the Greater Cleveland YMCA planned all along to close the facility, the legality of their deceit ought to be looked at, said Warren .

Members of the West Side YMCA also called for a look at the actions of the YMCA nationally to see if there is a pattern to closing inner city YMCAs in other cities. Ward 9 Councilman Kevin Conwell said he told Haley he believed that he was sent from the national organization to be a hit man and close the inner city YMCAs in Cleveland . Councilman Conwell called the proposal that the Glenville Development Corporation take over the Glenville YMCA an attempt to make Glenville residents think everything is ok while they kill off the West Side YMCA. He said the Glenville Development Corporation could not sustain the running of the Glenville YMCA. The reality is, “They want a divorce from us. The want to move away from us.”

A resident suggested that a historic designation for the YMCA help prevent the selling of the facility for condos. (Editor’s note: Cleveland City Council approved the expansion of the locally designated Ohio City Historic District legislation on May 17. The legislation became effective May 20, 2004 . This designation was sought by many community members to decrease the potential threat of demolition of Kentucky School and Garret Morgan Cleveland School of Science. The Ohio City Historic District includes the West Side YMCA building.)


Save Our Y, Part II to meet Wednesday, June 30th


Warren said Haley and Greater Cleveland YMCA Board President Petras would be invited to the meeting of the Save Our Y, Part II Committee on Wednesday June 30 th.

The Executive Director of West Side Ecumenical Ministry or a representative will also be invited to the meeting. Rumors have been flying that WSEM is negotiating with the Greater Cleveland YMCA to run YMCA programs at their facility on Detroit Avenue . Ward 17 Councilman Matt Zone , in whose ward the WSEM facility is located, says the WSEM facility doesn’t have a gym, handball court or a pool. The programs that could be offered there would be limited, he said.

 

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