Marietta Family YMCA closing most programs

Marietta Family YMCA executive director Rick Smith stands in the cycling room off the entryway of the 22,000-square-foot facility on North Seventh Street Monday. (Photo by Michael Kelly)

MARIETTA – The financial burden of operating a 60-year-old building far bigger than it needs has forced the Marietta Family YMCA to announce closure of nearly all its programs except those involving child care or children’s camps.

The organization, founded in Marietta in 1909, has struggled for more than a year as it sought a buyer for the 22,000-square-foot building at 300 N. Seventh St. while simultaneously looking for new quarters to fit its changing needs.

Board chairman Rick Smith said Monday that membership has declined slowly over the past several years, and the reasons are numerous.

“There’s not one specific reason, just a slight decline year after year,” he said. “We can’t point directly to one variable, and the board has discussed all these things – an aging population, smaller households. We didn’t see a significant decline from the private gyms opening up although that was certainly on our radar.”

Smith said the YMCA now has about 750 active memberships, many of which are family groups, meaning that about 1,400 people are part of the YMCA membership group.

After March 31, he said, the only remaining active programs will be child care, and the board is still searching for a suitable location to continue those. To retain its charter with the national YMCA, Smith noted, the local chapter had to keep at least one program group, and the child care programs seemed the most critical to the community. Child care services will continue in the Seventh Street building until the end of April.

Smith said about 90 percent of the Y’s memberships are month to month rather than annual. Members can have a refund for any time on their membership after services end, or they can choose to donate their fee to the organization, he said.

About 60 people, most of them part-time, work at the YMCA. Smith said about half the positions will be eliminated.

The board over the past several months has been looking for a suitable location, Smith said, with the hope that proceeds from the sale of the Seventh Street building would allow the purchase and renovation of another site. Despite having looked at more than 40 properties, the search was futile.

The pool closed in January, and local swim teams, which customarily used the pool for practice, needed to find other locations. The only other indoor pools in Marietta not in hotels are at the Ewing School, which is reserved for students and therapeutic use, and the Betsey Mills Club.

Jocelyn Adelsperger, executive director at Betsey Mills, said the club’s membership climbed after the YMCA pool closed.

“We had 38 new members the first week, and after that we quit counting,” she said. “We’re in the process of hiring more lifeguards to expand our hours.”

The pool now has open swimming about six hours a day, with another three hours on average blocked off for therapeutic classes designed for people with arthritis or other conditions. There is an open swim for two hours on Saturday, but most of the weekend currently is reserved for rental availability.

The pool, however, is substantially smaller than the one at the YMCA and not suitable for the kind of competition practice teams need.

Fitness classes at the YMCA – which hosts more than 60 group fitness classes a week — will also be displaced or dissolved.

“I can’t say enough about our staff, and I don’t say this lightly – they are incredible,” Smith said. “In our member surveys, they consistently raved about the staff, about how compassionate and friendly they are. It’s why people remain members – there are other options in the community, but they come here because they like our staff.”

Hilles Hughes has been a part-time fitness instructor at the YMCA for 11 years.

“I was devastated. We all knew things were challenging, but most of us didn’t feel like it was actually going to close,” she said.

Smith said the organization is in negotiations with a prospective buyer for the Seventh Street property. In the meantime, child care services will continue and the YMCA expects to be able to offer children’s camps during the summer, he said.

Smith emphasized that the YMCA will remain.

“It’s been a part of the community for 110 years,” he said. “The sale of the facility is going to be a change, but while we’re selling it and restructuring, we will keep relevant. The YMCA transcends just being a building.”