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Published: Monday, 8/10/2009

Y neighbors make case to branch board member

BY NEENA SATIJA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

South Toledo YMCA supporters met Sunday with a simple demand: Keep their neighborhood Y open until there's a new one.

"The South Y does not close," Mark Hertzfeld said. "That's the simplest solution right now all in favor, say aye."

"Aye!" Twelve people raised their hands.

Neighborhood residents met for the second time yesterday to discuss the announced closing of the YMCA & JCC of Greater Toledo's branch in South Toledo - and what they lacked in numbers, they made up in anger.

Thirteen people crowded around a table at Panera Bread, compared with last week's 20. But discussion was heated as 12 of them went head to head with Anne Bennett, a member of South Toledo Y's board. Pen and notebook in hand, she took down their concerns.

Asked if there was any hope of keeping the facility open past its Aug. 29 closing date, Ms. Bennett told residents, "My sense is that there's some opportunity for discussion."

Gary Batts, who organized the meeting in fellow resident Cooper Suter's stead because Mr. Suter was out of town, wasn't disappointed by the turnout. He noted that seven people who weren't at last week's meeting showed up yesterday.

He was also pleased to see Ms. Bennett, whom he did not expect.

"I thought she was a good addition," he said.

His wife, Sue Batts, said opposition to the closing was strong, as opposed to comments by some YMCA officials.

"We are not just a few malcontents," she said.

Ms. Bennett pointed out that the South Toledo branch was too small and in desperate need of renovations. Money for such repairs might be better spent elsewhere, she said.

"Do you want a new facility?" she asked.

"All we want is what we had. We were all happy with that," responded Fred Ansted, who said he joined a gym after finding out about the closing but would gladly throw away that money and go back to the South Y if he could.

"But you understand that there are issues with the building," Ms. Bennett countered.

"I understand that it's been allowed to fall into disrepair in the last two years," Ms. Batts responded as others murmured their assent.

No one was satisfied with the talk of expanding current Y facilities or suggestions of new Y branches. They felt the plans were vague and distant.

And even if a new Y eventually were to be built, they were worried it would be too far away to replace the old one.

With gas prices rising again, they said many wouldn't be able to afford the extra cost and time spent on additional travel.

Their biggest fear was the possible phenomenon of what residents called "build and scatter," where a new facility is far enough away that residents who used to convene at the South Y end up going to a variety of different facilities for the services they need. Many say the South Y is the most racially diverse of all of the YMCA of Greater Toledo's branches.

Mr. Ansted wanted to know why the YMCA was investing money in its suburban facilities rather than its urban ones.

"While they were building the Taj Mahal in Perrysburg, we were paying our dues [in the South Toledo Y]," he said.

YMCA officials have stressed in the past week that they still are committed to their urban members, as evidenced by the opening next month of a new $8.3 million West Toledo YMCA on Tremainsville Road.

Mr. Hertzfeld said South Y users knew the workers so well they would even go out and have meals with them. "We are truly a family," he said.

"We like our Y. We like our neighborhood. This is our home," said Ed Heilman. "Where do the kids go to swim if they're in my neighborhood?"

Ms. Bennett promised she would look into arranging a meeting between the public and members of the YMCA/JCC board of trustees. She said she thought they would be thrilled to see a community so engaged and so involved.

"I'm going to ask," she said. "All I can do is ask."

Mr. Batts said he hopes a meeting can be set up in the next week and a half and that it will be held at the South Toledo branch.

Contact Neena Satija at:

nsatija@theblade.com

or 419-724-6272.



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