YMCA closing is a tale for many towns
The closing of the Pottstown YMCA is a story that goes beyond this Montgomery County town of 22,000 people.
It is a tale that resonates in every community where affluence is favored over need, and aging buildings are abandoned to add more concrete to suburban sprawl.
The local Y, situated within walking distance of both North End and central Pottstown neighborhoods, is across the street from the Pottstown High School campus, its child care facilities convenient to parents, and its pool, exercise areas and meeting rooms readily available to youth.
Since announcing last November that the building will close in June, the Philadelphiabased parent organization Freedom Valley YMCA has insisted local programming will continue.
CEO Shaun Elliott says that moving child care to a business campus in Lower Pottsgrove Township 2 miles away is proof of commitment to local programs. Tell that to a single parent with no car who needs to get children to day care before taking the bus to work.
As in many towns like Pottstown, the buildings in the heart of the community — schools, churches, downtown businesses — are old. Many are historic and represent remarkable architecture from days gone by. Preserving them requires investment.
The cost of that investment is Freedom Valley’s reason cited for the decision to close.
Appeals to reverse the decision have come from Pottstown and Pottsgrove school boards, borough council and neighboring township boards, the NAACP, an online petition and Digital First Media. Most pointedly, a committee of 17 community leaders tasked by Freedom Valley board with doing the work of smoothing the effects of the closing did a dramatic turnabout and presented a 4-point proposal to return the Y to local control.
“After considerable research, discussion and feedback from the community, we conclude that the YMCA in Pottstown is rooted in a physical location and that a decision to close the facility, without local input or representation, is unacceptable,” the task force wrote. In a reply dated April 10, Dan Tropeano, chairman of the board, wrote the task force’s “fervent passion” is “heartwarming,” but, “We need to leave the 724 North Adams Street location — the building is failing.”
The sad irony is that the local Y merged with other suburban Ys in 2008 specifically with the intent to have a broader base of fund raising and resources to repair the building and solidify a future. Over those 10 years, the Freedom Valley board has built new facilities in wealthier suburbs while failing to address problems in Pottstown.
Elliott acknowledged that closing Pottstown’s Y, while it is building a new $30 million facility in wealthy Upper Moreland Township, may be upsetting to Pottstown area residents. The U.S. Census puts Pottstown’s median household income in 2016 at about $45,000. Upper Moreland Township’s median household income is around $63,000.
The task force asked the board to “fulfill the YMCA mission, renovate and restore the existing facility in the Borough of Pottstown to its intended use” or build a new facility in the borough or return the “YMCA facility to the community along with funding.”
“In the 10 years since the first merger, it is clear that the Pottstown YMCA has been an afterthought,” the task force wrote. “If we are going to start over as a community, there needs to be significant compensation.”
The details of this saga may vary. What is common, however, is the practice of organizations too often choosing to build outside traditional towns and cater to the higher-earning families of McMansion developments. Whether in Norristown, Lansdale, Coatesville or Upper Darby, communities struggle with finding resources to preserve and maintain community treasures.
As the Pottstown Y closing nears, appeals from a hurt and angry community fall on deaf ears. Joining with the voices of protest, we call on every town in this region and every member of YMCA boards to recognize the abandonment of this building as a disservice to a good and decent town.
In the words of the task force to the Freedom Valley board: “Create a larger community effort to reimagine the YMCA for Pottstown” by keeping this facility open and operating until a solution can be found.