The town of Montgomery has lost its YMCA.
The YMCA of Kanawha Valley announced in a news release last week that the Upper Valley branch would not reopen due to coronavirus safety concerns in advance of a permanent shutdown June 30.
Montgomery Mayor Greg Ingram said he and the town were blindsided by the move to close the facility.
“No one had heard anything about it,” Ingram said. “Not even their employees. This came out of the blue. This came out of some meeting in Charleston. That’s my understanding. It was a totally knee-jerk decision out of Charleston.”
The YMCA moved into the Neal D. Baisi Athletic Center facility on what had been the campus of West Virginia University Tech in 2017, after the school relocated operations to Beckley. West Virginia University retained ownership of the building, and a lease between the school and YMCA of Kanawha Valley is set to expire June 30.
BridgeValley Community & Technical College uses other buildings on the property.
“We want to be clear that Montgomery is part of our footprint and will continue to be a focus as we plan community outreach initiatives,” said YMCA of Kanawha Valley interim co-chief executive Erin Dydland.
Ingram said the closing was sad for the people in Montgomery and felt like another slap in the face for the community. He said they were looking into other options for a fitness center.
“Right now, we’re working on something different here,” he said. “At this point, it doesn’t include the YMCA.”
Ric Cavender, who chairs the YMCA board, said the decision to cease operations at the Upper Kanawha Valley YMCA wasn’t made lightly. He said subcommittees for the YMCA board weighed the costs and usage of the location and made a recommendation in March. The board voted in April not renew its lease in Montgomery, he said.
“Then COVID hit and we wondered if we shouldn’t just go ahead and close,” Cavender said. “Nobody could use it anyway.”
Cavender said the YMCA had high hopes for the facility, but partnerships in the area hadn’t provided enough income to make the venture sustainable. Also, he said, the facility wasn’t used as much as had been anticipated.
BridgeValley students, who received a YMCA membership as part of their tuition, made up the largest percentage of the facility’s users. But their ability to use other YMCAs in the Kanawha Valley hurt the Montgomery branch.
“The lion’s share of those students used the [YMCA] in Charleston, not Montgomery,” Cavender said.
According to an email from chief financial officer Tony Mariani, who also shares interim co-CEO duties with Dydland, “direct membership and programming” income at the Upper Kanawha Valley branch was less than $10,000 in February. Expenses were close to $18,000.
Cavender acknowledged communicating the organization’s plan for the facility to stakeholders could have been handled better. He said Smithers Mayor Anne Cavalier was on the conference call when the decision to shutter the YMCA had been made, but he doesn’t know why Ingram wasn’t told.
“Everything has been up in the air with COVID,” Cavender said. “At the YMCA, we’re looking for a new CEO and we don’t have a communications director. If somebody needs to make a call, I can do that.”
The closing of the Montgomery location follows last year’s closure of the downtown Charleston YMCA.
“I hated to see that,” Cavender said. “But it was a lot of the same issues — maintenance problems and not enough people using it.”
Cavender said the remaining two YMCA locations in Kanawha Valley are in relatively good shape, though their viability moving forward depends a lot on whether members who paused or canceled their memberships during the COVID-19 pandemic return.
“Everything is still up in the air and right now, we’re trying to get ready to open again,” he said.