Residents are rallying tonight to save the YMCA’s Washington Avenue branch from closing at the end of March, as city officials are asking the organization for more time before shuttering the building.
The event will be held at 5:30 p.m. outside the branch at 274 Washington Ave.
YMCA officials announced in a letter to members that the branch was closing because of declining membership and rising costs of maintaining an aging building. President J. David Brown said it was a very painful decision.
“No one who works for the YMCA does so to close a branch. We work diligently each day to help people who need us,” he said in the letter.
Rally organizer Chris Mercogliano, a member of the Washington Avenue YMCA Community Task Force, believes that the organization acted too soon. When YMCA officials said in December that the facility would close because of financial problems, community members asked what it would take to keep the facility going. The answer was to increase membership.
More than 700 new members have joined since the start of the year, according to Mercogliano.
“It’s clear from the 700 new members and the outpouring of community support that this Y really matters to the people of Albany — to the families, and youths and seniors who use this facility because they can either walk here or because it’s on the bus line,” Mercogliano said in a statement. “Closing this Y is a huge mistake that will impact not only the 3,000 members but the surrounding communities.”
Brown said Monday membership has been declining since the early 1990s. Now, it has about 2,000 members — down from a high of about 6,000 to 7,000 in the early 1990s. He attributed the erosion of membership to the availability of other fitness centers such as Bally Total Fitness and Gold’s Gym.
The bad economy is also a factor, according to Brown. “Obviously, people are making decisions now that they need to be more frugal with their money.”
However, he pointed out that the YMCA also provides other programs such as child care and teen leadership and outreach. Those will continue at other locations in the community, Brown said.
He added that people will be able to use a brand-new YMCA facility just two miles away on North Pearl Street.
Few if any layoffs are anticipated with the branch closing, Brown said. “At the moment, it’s looking like we’ll be able to relocate the staff to other operations.”
YMCA officials are working on a plan to turn the building into a community center, possibly as a partnership with the city and other nonprofits, to continue offer activities for youth, just not under the auspices of YMCA.
The current building requires repairs to the heating, ventilation and air condition system, as well as electrical upgrades.
“For the last 15 years we’ve been wrestling on how to improve this facility and just have not been able to do it,” he said.
Mayor Jerry Jennings is asking the YMCA officials to hold off on closing for now. He said he needs about four to six weeks to evaluate the situation and what is needed from the community to make the YMCA’s idea work.