Springfield YMCA considering moving operations to Tower Square

Oct. 11, 2018 | G. Michael Dobbs

SPRINGFIELD – The YMCA of Greater Springfield has a long-standing fiscal issue and CEO Dexter Johnson may have a solution: move much of the Y’s services and programs to another location, Tower Square.

Johnson said a decision to move operations into Tower Square will be made in 30 days.

In an interview with Reminder Publishing, Johnson noted the Y has been facing a $300,000 operating deficit for a number of years with much of the challenge at its main Springfield branch on Chestnut Street.

Johnson said the conversation about the Y, what it offers and how its offers it started in the 1990s. The question he and his staff is facing is “How can you downsize to what the community really needs?” he added.

He said a good example is at the building itself. Built in the 1960s, when squash and racquetball were popular, the Y had six courts on its second floor. He said those courts can remain unused for a week or more.

He also noted the Y was traditionally a place where people went for health and fitness and today must compete with private for profit health clubs. Currently the Y has about 1,500 members down from 3,000 in the past.

Johnson said the staff and board are considering a downsizing effort to move to Tower Square. Johnson said that if that were the course the Y takes, the build-out would take about six months – “relatively quickly.”

“Change is tough,” he admitted and added there are members of the Y who have been coming to the organization for more than 50 years. “I understand that [the proposed move] can be tough on them.”

The decision made with the Springfield location would not affect the Scantic Valley Y in Wilbraham, the childcare locations and youth programs operated by the Y or the programs offered at the Dunbar Community Center, Johnson said.

There would not be a pool at the Tower Square location, Johnson noted. “We’re looking at doing partnerships with other buildings with pools,” he said.

He said the general public, when learning of the Y’s situation, express surprise, but “many are aware of the Y and the struggles are not new.”

Johnson said, “We see it as an opportunity to breakaway from the struggles.”

The Springfield Y is the fourth oldest in the nation, Johnson noted. He said that Massachusetts is unique in the national because there are so many communities with their own Y while in other parts of the country there are Ys that serve a group of communities.

With the proposed move, Johnson said that sharing resources between YMCAs might be part of the solution. “We’re not trying to recreate the wheel,” he said.

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