Why oh, Y?

The closing of the Norwalk Y stuns members.

It's a very sad day indeed for Norwalk and for Norwalk Y members.  There is a Norwalk Y no longer. Perhaps this is how Brooklyn felt when the Brooklyn Dodgers left their hometown in the middle of the night. Or maybe how Madoff's clients felt when they found they'd been gulled.

As members, we've been systematically kept in the dark. Norwalk residents, Y members and even Y employees had no idea things were so dire that the Y had to close. Were we told that there was some sort of financial crisis? We were not. Was there any sort of special "Save The Y" fundraiser? There was not. Was there a telethon, as in days gone by? A charity ball? Not this time, no. Were we, as members, asked for more donations or a rate increase? No again.

There was the letter from management a year and half ago asking members to grant the board the power to make all the decisions. I guess that was clue number one.  

The letter welcomed feedback from members.  I sent off my suggestions.  (None of which required more than a few bucks.) Simple things like a towel rack by the pool ladder instead of 75 feet away, a few hooks on dressing room doors, a swim lane for adults-only during the kids’ summer camp season. And a return to the day of a heated diving well. CEO Michael Case’s response was something less than warm and fuzzy. Here’s an excerpt:

 To your points, I will address them each:
If you are a swimmer, you have certainly noticed that the pools have been perfect since we refurbished them last July after the basement flooding. All three pools are heated 24 hours per day with new gas heaters that have been procured by me within the past year at great expense (Aux Pool, Dive well and Main pool).
 With regard to your lane request for the aux pool, which is indeed warmer than the Main Pool (and specifically heated to a higher degree for children’s lessons and therapeutic reasons…). My mission at the YMCA, which I would remind you is a charity and not a health club, is to promote youth development, healthy living and social responsibility and so we work with many diverse groups of children. I won’t be changing that any time soon.
A towel rack was installed on the wall by the Divewell. I would suggest you use that rack to hang your towel.  I will not be installing another over there as it is infrequently used as it is and usually only by the dive teams who regularly dive in our well.
As far as my membership base, since July of 2009 when I took this position, the membership numbers have risen from 1167 to over 2800 membership units, so I don’t agree with your dwindling assessment.

The less-than-welcoming and self-aggrandizing tone toward those suggestions for common sense improvements should have been clue number two. But not a hint that the end was near.

 Y management has a history of bad decisions.  There was the land deal in South Salem, New York. Who knew about that? Land was purchased by the Y to develop a camp, like South Salem is around the corner from SoNo.  Oops, no due diligence done (even though the board at the time was stuffed with realtors). South Salem prohibits the Y to build a camp. The land was then sold at a huge loss.  Did the members know anything about the initial purchase? No. Did they know anything about the sale as a loss? Or to whom this property was sold? No again. Instead, all we get from the Board is, "Trust us."

Well, would you trust them?  

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Franny Mitch January 03, 2013 at 09:19 PM
The Norwalk Hospital decided to purchase the Y property but not continue the Y's operations - a heartbreaking end to "Tully Center" discussions between the two parties in 2012. Mike Case and team took over a Y on the verge of closure nearly 4 years ago - a bombed-out lobby with the lowest membership levels ever. He built the place back, doubling membership with state-of-the-art fitness equipment, new pool filters, new men's health center, a beautiful lobby, a new website with online registration, a new swim lesson program - while dealing with so many legacy issues, not the least of which was significant debt and a Board unwilling to roll up its sleeves and devote itself 100% to fundraising. In spite of this, the Y from all appearances returned to being a place we all wanted to see continue forever - and 140 people stayed employed until now during one of the worst recessions in our lifetime. Call your Mayor, the Norwalk Hospital, the Norwalk Y Board Chair - and any deep-pocketed donors you know if you want to create an effort to rebuild what remains of the Norwalk Y (childcare only) into a new facility - at 370 West Ave or elsewhere. Better yet, let's have a town meeting about it!
Cherie Flavin January 03, 2013 at 10:41 PM
According to an article published on 11/30/12, Norwalk Hospital has signed a letter of intent to purchase the [YMCA] property. “We do not have a definitive plan for the site at this time,” said hospital President and CEO, Dan DeBarba, in a statement. “As the community needs for health services continue to expand and we look to the future, this location and its proximity to the main campus of the hospital would be an ideal location for health care services growth and development.” There has been no decision by Norwalk Hospital to build a rehab facility as we were led to believe. They are "looking to the future" to determine how they will be using the Y property. They were quick to request (and be granted) permission to use the parking area for additional Hospital parking. We need to ask Norwalk City officials, the Zoning Board, and other elected and appointed people who have been part of the grandiose redevelopment plans along West Avenue WHY there was no plan with the developers to build or support a new YMCA building or facilities within one of the new buildings where it could continue to operate? WHY did the Norwalk YMCA BOD not make the funding or relocation to a new and more cost effective Y a priority? I agree with Franny-let's have a Town Meeting. Let's have City officials, the YMCA BOD, Norwalk Hosp Board, developers + people in the Norwalk community who are interested in what happens with the "Y" come together to ask some questions, get some answers.
christine bisceglie January 06, 2013 at 03:30 PM
As a long term member I am ready to fight this fight. I have done research on the building. It is worth preserving and the Norwalk Preservation Organization went in and documented two weeks ago. Norwalk needs this facility. I agree the hospital needs to expand but not there. I am not convinceed they will be interested in helping the families in Norwalk. The children of South Norwalk will not be joining LA FItness, Cruch, The Edge. Same goes for other residents in Norwalk including myself. Contact me if you want to join forces. Spread the word. A community meeting is a great idea. See my letter in the Hour yesterday. I wrote it two weeks ago. My contact info is Cbisceglie@yahoo.com .
Professor Eff January 09, 2013 at 05:27 PM
My concern is where children will go to let out some steam. The Y offered so many amazing programs and resources for children. I guess children still have programs at JAM in Sono (www.jamsono.com) and maybe the Maritime Center but is that enough? I agree with most of the people who think that this could have been fought for. I had no idea things were so dire.
Jeanne Hard January 09, 2013 at 06:50 PM
Saturday mornings at the Y were filled with children taking swimming lessons. Where will they go now? All children need to learn to swim. I think we should have a community meeting. The community needs swimming pools.


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