Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Montco Commissioners Get Earful About Y Closure

Photos by Evan Brandt
Vice Chairman of the Montgomery County Commissioner Ken Lawrence, standing, talks about improvements to the Schuylkill River Trail in Pottstown. At center is Chairwoman Valier Arkoosh and at left is Commissioner Joe Gale.
The Montgomery County Commissioners made their annual pilgrimage to Pottstown Monday night, talked about their successes over the past year and heard about two things from the audience.

One, they expected: "when will the Keim Street Bridge be re-built?" (Work still set to begin in 2020).

The other is a new development, the decision by the Philadelphia-Freedom Valley YMCA to close the Pottstown branch on North Adams Street in June.
Montgomery County Commissioners Vice Chairman Ken Lawrence
signs the petition opposing the closure of the Pottstown YMCA.

The latter consumed the vast majority of audience comments and the commissioners were urged to exercise any influence they can to keep the facility open.

For those of you sleeping through the last two months, here's the quick recap: After merging with the larger YMCA organization in 2012, the Pottstown branch has seen few benefits.

After closing the warm-water pool last year, the larger organization announced in November, with no warning and no consultation with the community it insists it serves, that the facility loses too much money and will close in June.

It then put together a task force to forge solutions with only one rule, you cannot recommend that the building remain open. The task force recommended exactly that, and the Philadelphia-Freedom Valley YMCA rejected that recommendation.

Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Gale signed the 
petition opposing the closure of the Pottstown YMCA as well.
"They don't want to be here. How do you deal with an organization that says it serves this community, but obviously does not want to be here?" asked David Charles.

"This seems like a pattern," said NAACP President Johnny Corson. "They closed the Aubudon facility with three months notice. Does it seem to you like they are closing YMCA's on low-income people? Their mission statement said they will help people who- are at a disadvantage, but they are pouring resources into high-income communities. Doesn't that concern you?" he asked.

Commissioners Chairwoman Valerie Arkoosh said Pottstown is a "community the county is deeply invested in," and that she is trying to serve as an "honest broker," to bring the Conshohocken-based non-profit to the table to talk.

"But I don't want to over-promise. They are a private entity, we have zero- authority over them," she said.

Montgomery County Commissioners Chairwoman Val Arkoosh,
addresses the crowd of about 60 at the Pottstown meeting.
However, Vice Chairman Ken Lawrence says what he plans to bring to the issue is the "moral authority" the commissioners can exercise.

"I have no desire to hear about the Willow Grove project," he said of the $30 million facility the organization is building in Upper Moreland. "I want to know what is going on in Pottstown. I don't understand having a task force and then disregarding what that task force says."

"This June 29 deadline is a gun to our heads," said one resident. "What we really need is more time and perhaps the commissioners can help with that."

One woman said she has collected more than 1,000 signatures on an on-line petition opposing the

closure. "They say they are committed to our community when clearly they are not," she said.

She said the YMCA was where all fourth graders in Pottstown were taught to swim for free, that they could walk to the facility from nearby school campuses.

Joe Ciresi, a former Spring-Ford School Board member running against Republican Tom Quigley for the 146th District House seat, advised the community to seek out the Philadelphia-Freedom Valley YMCA's donors and make them aware of the situation.

"These are people who made large donations to help the under-priviledge in the community, get in touch with them and say 'are you aware of what is going on here in Pottstown?' That will get their attention," Ciresi said.

"I've been so impressed by all the people in community who are working to try to resolve this, I think the task force did a great job. I hear clearly having child care two miles away is really not a solution at all," Arkoosh said of the often-touted 10-year lease the YMCA has signed with a facility in Lower Pottsgrove Township.

"We have so many things that tear us apart in this country and the Y is one of the few places where we can come together," she said.

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