YMCA clos­ing is a tale for many towns

Northern Berks Patriot Item - - OPINION -

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.

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