Only a few months are left until the South Orange Family YMCA’s $1.9 million expansion is a reality, now that the pool’s concrete is poured and walls are in place for a new gym and other rooms at the facility.
Officials said within the next 30 days, the building will “look finished to the public eye.”
To advance a planned spring completion, the Y will be offering “hard hat tours” beginning Saturday, Jan. 23.
Going forward, tours will be offered Saturdays at 8 a.m. and 12 p.m.; Mondays and Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m. and Tuesdays at 11 a.m.
“The purpose of hard hat tours is to show the community the different spaces and how they’ll be used and paint the vision of what’s to come,” said Middletown YMCA Chief Operating Officer Ross Miceli. “This expansion will positively impact our current membership and new families, children and seniors. We’ll be able to better serve them under this roof with all the great things we can now offer them. There are few non-profits that I know of which are expanding during a pandemic. That our Y has carried out with this project really speaks volumes to what we’re doing, how much we care about this community and that we’re following through on our promise to the community. We still intend to be the positive and major hub in this community.”
The impact of COVID-19
However, the COVID-19 financial challenges facing individuals, families and businesses also impacted the Y and its ability to complete the project as fully originally imagined.
“Things have gotten a little gotten tight,” said Middletown YMCA Chief Executive Officer Ira Besdansky. “We’ve had to reassess the total project and creatively prioritize how to complete all, if not most, of the spaces to getting this Y open in a meaningful way. As much of the work we can take on with Y staff, where we could paint and install ourselves, we have. The ability to do that saves us a lot of money.”
The pandemic forced the Y to close for months, creating a loss of revenue despite many families continuing to pay membership fees. Because of that, Miceli said, the Y looked to be innovative by offering programs and services to assist families during the pandemic with a bare bones staff using operating funds earmarked for other purposes.
Reallocation, delays, appeals
That meant using operating funds earmarked for years for the expansion to cover pandemic operations, programs and services for essential workers, Besdansky explained. Now, those operating funds are exhausted.
The Y is looking for about $100,000 to fully complete the project as intended.
Miceli stressed the full $625,000, raised though the capital campaign, is being used for the project and not any other purpose. But there’s now a void, tied to a pandemic no one expected.
“The only way we can complete this is to do more of it ourselves, including working with our partners to provide materials so we can do this ourselves, and, honestly, getting more donations from the community,” said Besdansky. “We are dealing with COVID-19 financial issues like every other business. The Y - the full association - lost $1.5 million during this pandemic. We need more funds coming in to finish this project the way it was intended.”
For the short-term, Besdansky said, they’ll need to postpone acquiring aquatic equipment – as an examples, continuing to use old equipment versus buying new as planned, and other measures like relocating old equipment from its Rock Hill location.
“It’s bits and pieces, but it adds up quickly,” said Besdansky. “$100,000 would ‘make’ this project. $1.9 million takes care of construction. Now, we’re looking at the dollars we need for program supplies, these are the things we’d really like to have from the start.”
Miceli reminded community members they can help by considering purchasing “supporter” tiles that can be financed over one to three years:
A 6x6 tile costs $1,000;
A 6x8 tile costs $2,500; and
An 8x8 tile costs $5,000.
Each tile allows the donor to place a custom and permanent legacy message, he said.
Concurrently, as the greater Orange County area grapples with changing COVID-19 positivity rates, Besdansky know an equal challenge is getting people comfortable with returning to the Y and reinstating their memberships.
“The moving parts are we need to get people excited about coming back to the Y,” he said. “But, even more than that, if we don’t generate some new enthusiasm for the Y, we will continue to not bring in money and lose money. We need to fill the place and we want people to feel great about coming here. We can’t yet fill the place like the way we used to be able to. It’s a very different scenario from February 2011.”
‘We’re going to do this’
Still, Besdansky and Miceli remain effervescent about the expansion and what it will bring to the greater Monroe area, despite the current financial challenges. They believe the money they need to complete the project as originally planned will come through, through the cooperation of vendors and the grace of a community who, for years, has said they want a Y in the area and a pool for its use, they stressed.
“In New York State, Ys are struggling, wondering if they will be open tomorrow,” added Besdansky. “We are not that far from that. If the bottom falls out, we’re in trouble. When we talk about the context of do, we’re trying to keep a promise to this community, that we’re doing that. For this long is mind boggling. But, one way or another, we’re going to do this.”