Village of Monroe Board of Trustees and South Orange Family YMCA officials meet

Village of Monroe Board of Trustees and South Orange Family YMCA officials meet, but proposed egress plan discussions don’t happen

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By Nancy Kriz

— Officials of the Village of Monroe and the South Orange Family YMCA met this past Monday to begin what Y officials hope is an ongoing dialogue about the Y’s expansion plans, the village planning board’s requirement for a second egress in order for the expansion to begin and Y’s need for the village board to approve its proposed egress plan.

Y officials expressed optimism the village board will continue conversations to best understand the proposal.

Representing the Y were Middletown YMCA Chief Executive Officer Ira Besdansky, South Orange Family YMCA Branch Executive Director Ross Miceli and Tom Olley, the Y’s civil engineer.

“I think that Ross, Tom and I did a good job communicating the value of the Y, what we’re trying to do, what we believe will happen,” said Besdansky. “We covered everything except for the road. I sent a note thanking them for their time and asking them for a second meeting. This was Step 1: Educate them about the Y.”

Representing the village were Mayor Neil Dwyer and trustees Carey Alley, Debbie Behringer and Dorey Houle. Trustee Irene Conklin didn’t attend due to illness.

Keep open the lines of communicationsThe Photo News asked the mayor and trustees about their characterizations of the meeting. What did they learn as a result of the meeting? Were their questions answered? What continue to be issues of concern? What are next steps? Is there a timetable for the group to complete its due diligence?

Houle responded, on behalf of the trustees, with this statement: “Our visit with the YMCA confirmed all of the good work that they do for our community and what a valuable resource they are for Monroe.”

She added: “Because this a delicate issue complicated by the fact that there are two new board members who had little to no knowledge of the YMCA’s plans for a secondary egress, they are allowing the Village of Monroe Board of Trustees the time we need to gather the information necessary for a decision,” she wrote. “We are keeping the lines of communication open between the Y and the board.”

Conklin, who was unable to attend, wrote in an email to the paper: “Due to the flu, I was unable to attend the meeting with ‘Y.’ I will be catching up with my board members to hear about the visit and the conversation.”

The Photo News requested a comment from Dwyer, in his role as mayor and separate from the trustees’ statement. He did not respond.

Besdansky said his team spoke about the range of services the Y provides to the community that go beyond what a gym offers: its Camp We Discovery and Camp Discovery; Vacation Day at the Y; the Club Kid before/after school program for almost 500 children in Monroe-Woodbury schools; Kids Night Out program for 3 to 9-year-olds; Weekend Warriors teen drop off program; and additional family programs.

The impact of expansionThey showed the raw space within the facility and again presented renderings of the 25-yard, four lap pool, expansion of existing locker rooms and family changing area; new Teen Center/Senior Activity space and the community multi-purpose space, he said.

Additionally, said Besdansky, the group spoke about the other community organizations which are positively impacted by the Y. That included tenant Inspire for Kids, which uses its gym for three days a week to fulfill physical education needs for special needs children. Besdansky added Inspire for Kids plans to grow its program with the Y’s expansion.

Besdansky said he explained the expansion would “generate a shift in terms of our membership makeup back to what we were in the beginning.”

When the Y first opened, 85 percent of its membership units were families.

“Why is that important?” Besdansky said. “It’s important relative to traffic flow and the cars generally at the Y. It will be a shift of, say, 300 people in the building and 250 cars (on the campus at one time), to 450 people in the building and 200 cars.”

Departure times always vary, he added.

The Y’s national research says when pools come into a Y, there’s an internal demographic shift to families, with less “single” adults, Besdansky noted.

“I’ve done this a number of times in a number of communities,” he said. “I know what happens when you introduce pools. When we first opened, the numbers of kids we had in the Youth Center and Child Watch were huge. Then, those kids get a little older and say, ‘Oh, I don’t want to go.’ Those 13 and 15-year-olds don’t go unless they get involved in specific programs. But when a pool is introduced, in particular, and a gym in general, we will absolutely attract families. It’s something you can do together socially and recreationally and meet other families.”

Attraction for communitiesBesdansky said Ys nationwide are a major attraction for communities trying to connect families together and encourage economic development.

“Up until 2008 (when the Great Recession began), we knew the percent increases in housing values and in communities where they built YMCAs,” he said. “We’re back to seeing that again. I’m talking serious ‘cha-chings’…. 15 to 20 percent. That’s not Ira talking; it’s the largest not- for- profit in the world with 10,000 locations in the United States. “

Now, Besdansky said, he hopes egress discussions will happen.

“I look forward to the opportunity to soon addressing every concern they have about safety,” he said. “We already know it’s (safety) been addressed. It’s just a matter of communicating that to them, not debating that with them. I know if they (the board) do the homework, we (the Y) get a 100 on the test. We did our homework over four years on this. I think that’s very fair to say. We’ve been working with many experts in the field, including the DOT, the village’s own engineering firm and the county on this.”

Still, Besdansky said he’s confident the board is genuine in its interest to find a solution.

“Thank you for coming and letting us educate you about the YMCA,” he said. “That’s an important first step. I look forward to the second step, where we will alleviate every single safety concern you have, as we have been dealing with this for four years. This plan is the one which made sense all along. This is the best option, crossing that trail. Period. My hope and expectation is that we are involved in any meetings, at any location, at any time about this matter.”

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