YMCA purchase on hold; Norwich mayor seeks regional involvement
By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Regional - posted Mon., Feb. 21, 2011
City officials are taking a step back to rally support from the wider southeastern Connecticut community for a regional recreation center at the site of the former Norwich YMCA.
Norwich Mayor Peter Nystrom withdrew his proposed ordinance that would have allowed the city to purchase the structure, saying that he wanted to involve more local towns in sharing both the cost and benefits of a reopened Y.
“We’re not looking to duplicate anything at all that other towns are providing,” said Nystrom. “We’re looking to getting the other towns involved. The best way to proceed, I think, is on a regional basis.”
The YMCA closed abruptly in April 2009, leaving many local residents in the lurch. Access to the Y’s swimming classes and pools, fitness facilities, day care and community meeting space suddenly vanished. The building has been shuttered ever since, enduring two destructive incursions by vandals.
The structure has been under the ownership of local banks, and Nystrom’s initial proposed ordinance would have allowed the city to purchase the facility for $800,000. Now he’s seeking help from the Council of Governments on the purchase.
“They bring a lot of expertise, and the opportunity to access funds somewhere down the road,” Nystrom said. A regional project involving more of the COG’s 23 member towns could access more grant money than a project pursued by a single town, he said.
No matter who buys the building, the former YMCA will need repairs to the heating system and clean-up from the vandalism, Nystrom added.
Norwich Recreation Department Director Luis DePina said that when the Y was open and running, “it served not only Norwich, but all of southeastern Connecticut. It had the only good-sized pool in a 15-mile radius.”
If the Y is reopened as a community center, the city will be able to fold the facility into its wider recreation program, DePina said. Recreation Department offices could move there from their current cramped quarters on Mahan Drive. Insurance, finance services, phone and computer system costs would be under city auspices, making them less costly than they were when the YMCA owned the building, DePina said.
In addition, much of the cost of operating the building, and even its purchase price, would be offset by fees for facility use, said DePina. Rental on day care, meeting and recreation spaces would fund such costs as utilities and maintenance. “This gives us an opportunity to generate revenues and give a reduced cost for recreation services to the taxpayers,” he said.
Norwich residents would receive a break on user fees, according to the Recreation Department proposal for purchasing the Y.
The Connecticut Economic Resource Center is working to evaluate the Recreation Department plan for acquiring the YMCA, DePina said. The CERC report should present specific data on whether or not the region can support such a recreation facility and its probable economic impact on the region.
A meeting to update the community on the project’s status was slated for Feb. 23.