Members of the Frank P. Phillips Memorial YMCA branch in New Hope are rallying to save the facility.
The Board of Directors for the Frank P. Phillips Memorial YMCA, which has branches in downtown Columbus, Caledonia and New Hope, announced Wednesday the branch will close Aug. 31.
New Hope’s YMCA, located on Lake Lowndes Road, has been open since 2001.
YMCA Executive Director Andy Boyd relayed the news to members of the New Hope YMCA during a Wednesday morning meeting that lasted about 90 minutes. There, he told members the board of directors decided to close the New Hope branch because it has struggled to generate enough revenue to remain open.
“If we were making a dime here, or breaking even or close, we wouldn’t be having this meeting,” Boyd said. “We have been way in the red for years.”
Boyd told members the New Hope branch saw a roughly $50,000 deficit last year and is tracking toward the same deficit this year. He said the branch has 312 members.
Members on Wednesday discussed a wide range of options, from making extra payments on top of their regular fees to asking those who receive financial assistance for memberships to pay full price.
Branch members also formed a committee to lead the effort and will meet again at 9 a.m. Tuesday to present ideas to Boyd, who will take them to the board of directors. Members hope they might either buy more time for the facility or present an idea that can convince directors to give them a chance to raise more revenue.
“If there’s interest, which I see, I promise you the biggest advocate you’ve got in this room here, bar none, is me,” Boyd said Wednesday. “I don’t want to do this.”
A change.org petition, named “Save the New Hope YMCA” had gathered 320 signatures as of this morning.
Jerry Lane, a member at the New Hope branch, is convinced member efforts could go a long way toward saving the facility.
“We need to do some stuff — we need to brainstorm not only about getting more members out here, but right now saving the Y here, we’ve got to come up with some money,” he said. “We’ve got a month.”
Recruiting new members
Still, some members expressed doubt that they could generate the revenue needed to convince the board of directors to delay the closing.
Sam Taylor, of New Hope, said his father ran a YMCA in his hometown of McGee, until he stepped down because the facility was going to close. He said all of the ideas about donations or finding extra income sources were good, but the YMCA needs to boost its membership numbers to sustain itself.
“The bottom line of all that we’re talking about, and I’m just gonna speak from my experience, there are other things we can do, but it’s a membership-run deal,” Taylor said. “… I get it. I’ve seen it. There may be other things we can do to supplement, but if we’re not membership sustainable, then we’re not actually getting anywhere, and we’ll just be repeating the cycle.”
Boyd, who agreed more membership was the most sustainable revenue stream, said he couldn’t say how many members the YMCA would have to add for directors to reverse their decision. However, he noted that it would take about 100 new memberships to generate an extra $50,000.
Lowndes County District 3 Supervisor John Holliman, who attended Wednesday’s meeting, suggested every member reach out to someone to join.
“I know everybody here has friends they can recruit,” Holliman said. “That would help more than anything.
“And another thing,” he added, “Weyerhaeuser, PACCAR, (Steel Dynamics, Inc.) — they allocate money for community involvement. You were talking about getting a committee together. Could they not contact these people — and I’ll be glad to help them — and get donations each year for this facility?”
Members suggested cutting hours, having volunteers work at the facility or even closing the pool. Boyd said those issues could be worth considering, but membership would drive revenue, more than anything.
“We can say ‘Maybe that person shouldn’t make that money,’ or ‘Maybe that person should do something different,’ but the issue is dollars,” Boyd said. “If we weren’t having dollar issues, I wouldn’t be sitting here right now. …The issue is membership — sustaining membership.”
Caroline Bogue, who’s worked at the New Hope YMCA since it opened, said it’s more than just a fitness facility.
“There’s a great group of people here,” she said. “This is a common ground place where you meet people you might never meet otherwise.
“This is a place for fellowship — a place where people know each other,” she added. “There’s a love here you don’t find in other centers.”
All memberships at the Frank P. Phillips Memorial YMCA Association are valid at the Columbus and Caledonia locations, and New Hope members can continue to access the association’s programs and services at those locations.
Alex Holloway was formerly a reporter with The Dispatch.
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