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Penn Hills

Residents, service providers seek to fill gaps at YMCA closure looms

Dillon Carr
| Thursday, July 26, 2018, 2:42 p.m.
YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh President and CEO Kevin Bolding speaks to a group of human service providers and Penn Hills residents about the closing of the municipality’s facility on Thursday, July 26.
YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh President and CEO Kevin Bolding speaks to a group of human service providers and Penn Hills residents about the closing of the municipality’s facility on Thursday, July 26.

The question of saving the YMCA in Penn Hills comes down to a “dollars and cents thing,” said the organization’s president and CEO.

Kevin Bolding said the organization chose to close the three facilities because each were losing $200,000 or more in revenue per year.

“We cannot add back to our organization a facility that loses $200,000 a year,” Bolding said at a meeting July 26 at Mt. Hope Community Presbyterian Church on Frankstown Road where about 75 residents, human service providers and Y staff met to talk about how to fill the programming gap once the municipality’s YMCA closes Aug. 31.

The meeting was sponsored by Penn Hills Partnership, a coalition of human service providers and residents aimed at connecting the community with services to promote well-being. It was the first of two meetings where Bolding and Penn Hills YMCA Executive Director Thomas Wallace were scheduled to talk about the organization’s closures and take questions from concerned residents.

The meeting also was held to give human service providers an opportunity to brainstorm ideas on how to fill the gaps once the Penn Hills YMCA closes, however no specific ideas were presented.

The YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh announced in July it will save $1 million by closing three of its branches in Robinson, Penn Hills and Wilmerding. The three locations will be listed for sale, Bolding said. The announcement came two months after the organization filed for bankruptcy.

On Wednesday, a judge dismissed the regional nonprofit organization’s bankruptcy case.

According to court documents, the YMCA has completed the closure of its Downtown Pittsburgh location on Fifth Avenue; reached a settlement with MSP Commercial Subtenant LP, a subsidiary of Washington County real estate developer Millcraft Investments; and caught up on all rent, equipment leasing and loan payments.

Even still, the Penn Hills YMCA property along Frankstown Road is valued too high to not try to sell, Bolding said.

“It’s been appraised at a seven figure number,” he said, noting he would not specify how much the property is worth to maintain a competitive edge. “There is a great degree of interest in the Penn Hills and (Western YMCA) facilities.”

Bolding attributed the loss in revenue at the Penn Hills Y, in part, to losing members to Planet Fitness since that facility moved in to its Penn Hills Shopping Center in November 2014.

“I’m not against them — they just offer a different product that some people like. But it did have a negative impact on our Y,” Bolding said.

Further consideration was given to facilities that had higher property values and a downward trend in revenue and memberships, he said.

Another factor was how much money it would cost to update and maintain the facilities, Bolding said.

“Now Penn Hills, as you all know, is in good shape,” he said. But, he estimates necessary building updates would take around $2 million over the next 10 years.

Bolding’s frank speech, which lasted over 30 minutes, generated some heated comments from residents in the audience.

“You talk about Planet Fitness and it taking away from the Y, but Planet Fitness does not cater to kids,” said James Taylor Jr., of Penn Hills. “So my question for you is what is your plan for our kids?”

Bolding said the nonprofit is committed to keeping programs for children in the community.

“We want to follow a process that ensures the Y continues to provide as many programs as possible in the affected communities,” he said, mentioning “Y on the Fly,” a program that brings activities to children in communities that do not have a YMCA facility.

Carol Calloway, of Penn Hills, passed out a petition for people to sign to “save the Y.”

“We have over 250 signatures on paper and about 500 online. We need to keep this YMCA open,” Calloway said to applause.

About half of the audience were representatives of human service providers. At the end of the meeting, Jace Ransom, who organized the Penn Hills Partnership meeting, instructed the representatives to email Wallace about open, paid positions those organizations have. The email is twallace@ymcapgh.org.

A second meeting is scheduled to take place at 6:30 p.m. in the Penn Hills YMCA gym at 11817 Frankstown Road. Bolding and Wallace will also speak there.

Residents who still have questions can email answers@ymca.org, Ransom said.

Dillon Carr is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Dillon at 412-871-2325, dcarr@tribweb.com or via Twitter @dillonswriting.

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