YMCA Special Meeting Calls for Preventing Move

Robert Thomas

"We had fights; and let's be honest, this was a difficult decision to make ," Jeff Fox, CEO of the Moose Jaw YMCA told a special meeting of the non-profit organization. But the cost to repair and refurbish the present Fairford Street East location, plus projected losses, drove the decision to cease operations at its flagship location.

That was the message delivered to about 200 members of the Moose Jaw YMCA (YMJ)  at a special board meeting held on Monday night.

But when it was all said and done, it never moved the majority of attendees and there is now a chance for maybe reconsideration.

"It's not an easy decision and once you see the numbers and the building," Fox said, adding that asbestos was used as insulation in the 1970's.

"But guess what our building is filled with?" Fox asked.

Fox went on to explain how all YMCA facilities are evaluated on an annual basis and how the 220 Fairford Street East facility has been discussed for the last 10 years.

A building audit had been completed in 2015 showing nearly $3 million in upgrades and repairs necessary.

A situation analysis was developed to renew the facilities options available to YMJ in the first quarter of 2018 and included with a recommendation to the board.

Attendees were told five options had been presented to the board. They were:
- Do Nothing
- Enhance the Athabasca (Co-op Fitness Centre) and cease operation at Fairford Street
- Renew Fairford Street and move out of Co-op location
- Lease another space
- Build a new facility

The recommendation came to close the flagship Fairford location.

The basis for the recommendation was broken down with a roof replacement of $430,000, an elevator for $325,000, mechanical and plumbing $500,000 and racquetball courts.

Fox said five sump pumps kept the water down for the basement racquet ball courts because the Y was built "in a river" and that "we know the floor underneath is rotten."

At an April 19th meeting, the Y board passed a motion "That Jeff Fox plan for closing of the Fairford facility and the movement of programs into other Y buildings."

It should be noted that, previously, the indication was that the decision had not been made. At the meeting, attendees were told the final move was contingent on obtaining an extended lease with the Co-op and bridge financing.

The numbers do not add up he said adding "these large concrete buildings aren't the future of fitness."

At present, attendees were told financial membership fees contribute 33 percent of costs and by doing nothing an average loss of $76,000 which was not sustainable.

Moving from the $1 per year lease, the Fairford location would provide an annual savings of $493,000 per year with a capital investment of $200,000.

"It's not about these four walls."

Remaining in the Fairford location and closing the Co-op location would result in a $45,000 loss per year and have a 1600 member capacity plus no member parking.

Leasing would cost $27 per square foot with a $300,000 per year loss.

Building new would cost $14-16 million with a loss of $76,000 annually Fox said on his presentation.

Deals were in the process with the two school divisions to move programs for children into local school gyms Fox said adding "not one program will be stopped by this move."

Jeremy Brehm, the member who initiated the petition to hold the special meeting was highly critical of the presentation.

"I kind of believe we are being mislead here," Brehm said, adding "I'm mostly worried about the kids."

"This is not about a place to lift weights...fragmenting around the city goes against the Y's core values," he said.

Brehm said school gyms would limit access and have a great impact on athletes who went on to elite competition.

"They did it it here, working their ass off everyday."

Brehm spoke about how the Y helped him personally as a child and how it could help other children with opportunities even if they weren't the best athletes.

"This is priceless, you cannot put a dollar figure on it."

Errol Fonger said that with just a $5 per month increase in membership fees, over time, $4.2 million could be raised to pay for renovations.

Fox responded "closing this facility; it's half a million dollars we would save."

Dave Kelly, a Y member for 54 years, challenged the validity of the presentation.

He claimed that what had been presented were "points of view that aren't factual."

The $3 million figure were "quotes from people...you didn't get an engineering assessment."

"They were presented to us as facts and that's not true."

The claim made that boutique fitness centres were the trend was also "not true."

"It wasn't presented as an accurate assessment of what's going on."

Kelly stated that in order to accurately measure members' opinions a third party firm was necessary. A survey was done of Y members.

"I can go on-line on Survey Monkey and get any answer I want," Kelly claimed.

"Things presented tonight haven't been presented in a way that presents the facts."

Kelly would later state that he was "disappointed to hear you are going to close it."

He said if a private business had the Y building for $1 per year they'd have a "profit on this place as fast as you can shake a stick at."

"It's not just a fitness thing, it's a cultural thing, it has to stay."

Christine Wolbaum said her family was in the construction business and she questioned what had been shown.

"When I listened to this half assed presentation I'm not getting the real numbers," Wolbaum stated.

She asked if there was any truth that "the City is ready to put in dollar for dollar what you put into it."

Fox responded that it was "not true". MJ Independent had checked earlier with the City and confirm this response as factual.

Pat Riley stated he was "disappointed with the communication efforts around this" and asked "Is this a foregone conclusion that you are going to close this facility?"

Board chair Christine Boyczuk replied (we) "reiterate to do the best thing for the members."
Riley asked "why don't you lease something? You take the people and stick them in the basement of the Co-op, it's not going to work."

Fox responded, saying the board and management were "not opposed to dialogue."

Boyczuk said any motion to stop the closure "we would take under advisement the comments made tonight...we don't have a plan to deal with comments we heard tonight."

In the end, a motion was proposed from the floor, by Fonger, for the Y to cease and desist exit from the Fairford Street facility and prevent disbursement and allocation in an AGM is held.

The motion passed with only 5 votes against it.

The motion does not tie the Y board to stopping the move. It can only give guidance and the final say is up to the Board.

Another motion passed requesting that the Y board hold the Annual General Meeting as soon as possible. The date is tentatively set for October due to the need for the audited financial statement to be prepared.

If the Board decides to go ahead with the move it will take 12 to 18 months to make the move to the Co-op facility.

Y member since 1969 and former City alderman Clive Tolley made the last comment "overall people do not want this facility to close and the board heard it loud and clear."

The Moose Jaw YMCA was established in 1905 on land donated by the CPR and opened its doors in 1909 where Casino Moose Jaw now stands.

In 1972, the Y leased the Fairford Street location for 50 years at an annual lease rate of one dollar.