By Dedra Cordle
Residents in the village of Urbancrest were thrilled when they learned the YMCA of Central Ohio would be permitted to open all of its locations after nearly a year of closures and reduced capacity operations to slow the spread of a novel coronavirus at mass gathering sites.
That sense of excitement soon turned into confusion, however, when the doors to the Vaughn E. Hairston YMCA remained closed.
According to an official with the YMCA of Central Ohio, the sight of those doors being opened for traditional programming may be a thing of the past.
The financial stability of the organization was put into jeopardy from the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, said Tony Collins, its president and chief executive officer.
The state mandated closure of those mass gathering sites last year cut their revenue by $16 million, saw thousands of members close their memberships, and they had to make staffing cuts across the board, he explained.
He said that while they have been permitted to open their locations after Governor Mike DeWine lifted health orders last month, they are still reeling from the impact.
“Operations are starting to stabilize,” he said, “but they are nowhere close to where we were pre-pandemic.”
He said that financial strain is the reason why the organization made the “difficult decision” to cut traditional recreational programming services at the location in Urbancrest.
“We are not able to provide (recreational) programming at this location right now,” he said.
According to Collins, it costs approximately $150,000 annually to operate the recreational programming at the Vaughn E. Hairston YMCA. He added that in the past, grants or funding from more profitable locations have subsidized the cost of operations at this location, but they can do longer afford to do so as they try to recover financially from the pandemic.
Collins said the YMCA of Central Ohio would like to continue to work with the village or another entity for funding opportunities to re-establish recreational (or health and wellness) programming so it could be brought back in the future.
He said right now, they are focused more on working with the village to keep running the site as a location for youth development programs such as after-school care, Head Start, and Positive Alternative Learning for Students (PALS).
The organization’s decision to close programs at the center, however, is a point of contention for the village and those on its YMCA advisory committee.
Unlike its other locations, the YMCA of Central Ohio does not own the building at 3500 First Ave. – the village of Urbancrest does. But the YMCA has been operating programs at the center since 1998.
In 2016, another funding issue put the future of the center’s programming into question, but the two entities were able to come to an agreement that would bring back operational stability in 2018.
Among the items in the management agreement was a passage under the ‘term and termination’ section that states a written notice of intention to terminate the contract would need to be delivered to either party should that decision be made.
Village Mayor Joseph Barnes Sr. said he believes that the YMCA’s decision to cease programming operations at the center amounts to a termination of the current contract. He added that it is something the YMCA has not formally requested in writing.
“We have not received anything (in writing) at this time,” he said. “So, as far as I am concerned, their decision to not provide programming puts them into breach of contract because they are not fulfilling their end of the bargain.”
The Columbus Messenger reached out to Collins to ask if the association had sent a letter of termination to the village, or whether they intended to do so. The Messenger also reached out to village law director Rodd Lawrence to ask if his office had received a letter regarding an intention to terminate the contract. A response from either party has not been received as of press time.
Barnes said while he would like to see recreational services continue at the Hairston YMCA, he is concerned about the operational price.
“We already pay $76,000 a year for the utilities, and we have to pick up any major repairs beyond $500,” he said.
He said the two parties will have to sit down and negotiate on the future of the center.
“I don’t know what the face of this center is going to look like in the future,” said Barnes. “I know it is going to be there, I know it is going to have a face, but what that face looks like will depend on future agreements.”