Palo Alto Weekly

News - July 11, 2014

Members of Page Mill Y protest its closure

Nonprofit's execs say costs of remodeling are prohibitive

by Elena Kadvany

Following the YMCA's sudden announcement in late June that the organization would be closing its Page Mill Road facility this fall, members have expressed outrage over the decision, angry that they were not consulted beforehand and suspicious of the reasoning behind the closure of the 35-year-old community institution.

"This is a community. This is not the closing of a Walmart or 7-Eleven," said Paul Doiron, one of more than 20 members who gathered outside the gym Tuesday morning to air their concerns about the closure. "This is a very unique and special place. Everybody is vehemently opposed to this decision that we were broadsided (on). ... There was no discussion."

YMCA leadership maintains that the impending end of its lease of the basement space at 755 Page Mill Road meant re-evaluating whether renewing the lease for another 10 years, which would mean a host of renovations they view as necessary, was worth it.

"The board of directors assessed the situation thoroughly before making the decision, and it was really hard for them," said Elizabeth Jordan, chief operations officer of the YMCA of Silicon Valley. "They did not want to impact people, but unfortunately, we have the biggest responsibility as a not-for-profit to be able to put our resources where they have the greatest impact. Signing onto a 10-year lease in a property that was really at the end of its useful lifespan is just something we couldn't do."

Jordan said plumbing that leads into the facility's whirlpools is 30 years old, breaks down often and needs to be updated, but some parts are no longer available. The gym's downstairs cycling room has "extremely poor ventilation," she said, but rebuilding the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system would cost close to $150,000.

Signing onto another 10 years would also mean replacing a lift installed on a stairwell, to carry members who cannot walk up or down stairs, with an elevator, Jordan said.

"It would have cost an inordinate amount of money to make it work," she said.

The underground facility also lacks natural light, and there's no way to build up or even out, she added.

But members on Tuesday weren't buying those reasons for shuttering the Y.

"We'd be happy to have it stay the way it is," one man said, with others nodding their heads. "We like it. There's no reason to close it. From the customer's point of view, there's no reason to close it."

"The facility itself is no great thing, but it is adequate," member Sandra Weiss agreed.

Member Janice Sutphin voiced a shared opinion when she said, "We don't fit the model anymore" — referring to a suspicion that the closure is an indication that the YMCAs are becoming more family- and youth-oriented and less senior-friendly. Compared to other local Y's, a higher percentage of Page Mill members are older than 65 years, according to the nonprofit.

Those gathered Tuesday also questioned the way the decision was handed down, wondering why management didn't poll members.

But Jordan has said that a number of the YMCA board members use the Page Mill gym and that their perspective and experience with the facility was sufficient for decision-making.

What members said they are most upset about is the loss of this deeply connected, supportive and comfortable community, which they said does not exist at the other local YMCAs to which Page Mill members could transfer when Page Mill closes on Oct. 1.

"It's the instructors (and) the classes they give," Weiss said of Page Mill. "People like the equipment, ... but the big thing really is the people and the community. It's astounding."

The closest branches to Page Mill are the Palo Alto Family YMCA on Ross Road in Palo Alto and the Lewis and Joan Platt East Palo Alto Family YMCA on Bell Street; a bit farther flung are the Sequoia YMCA in Redwood City and the El Camino YMCA in Mountain View. Page Mill members can patronize any of these gyms — or any Bay Area YMCA — now and through Dec. 31 for free, Jordan said in June. In January, members can join a new "home branch" without paying the standard joining fee.

But can other gyms accommodate an influx of transferring members, especially the Ross Road facility, members on Tuesday asked.

"I just came from Ross," said Magen Jensen, who's been a YMCA member since 1980. "You're always fighting for parking, for showers, and children are running around; there's lots of noise. ... It's a totally different environment. This (Page Mill) has been home for all of us."

The Palo Alto Family YMCA serves 4,201 membership units — which could be a single person or a family — compared to Page Mill's 1,401 units, according to David Low, YMCA of Silicon Valley's director of marketing communications. The East Palo Alto gym serves 991 units and Redwood City, 1,740.

Jordan said they are not worried about crowding at the other YMCAs, citing the fact that 45 percent of Page Mill members live outside of Palo Alto and so, come October, might chose a gym near where they live — whether or not that is a YMCA facility.

Page Mill's membership demographics also differ from other local facilities, Low said. Approximately 23 percent of Page Mill members are older than 65 years old compared to 14 percent at the Palo Alto Family YMCA and 21 percent at the Redwood City gym, he said.

Older members say they feel more comfortable and welcomed at Page Mill than other locations they have visited. Many who spoke Tuesday have been members for more than 20 years; one 59-year-old woman joined at 24 when she was unmarried and with no children and has brought her entire family through the facility.

Members said that they're prepared to fight the YMCA's decision and are considering taking legal action against the organization. Member Chuck Kinney said Tuesday that he has consulted with two members who are attorneys about this possibility. The attorneys refused to comment for this story, and Kinney said they are not sure what specific legal action they could take.

"We'd prefer not to (take legal action), but it may come to that point," he said.

A petition circulating to keep Page Mill open had more than 300 signatures on Tuesday. But if leadership won't change their mind — and Jordan has said the recent outcry has not impacted the decision, which will not be reversed — they said they're ready to go elsewhere.

"If they do close, and I hope they don't, I'll go anywhere else besides the Y," one man said.

Property owner Robert Wheatley told the Weekly Wednesday that he, too, was shocked by the YMCA's decision.

"We kind of thought they would stay," he said. "We've had this great relationship. We both realize there would have to be a major renovation done to the facility just to keep up with what's needed. So it's up to them to decide how to move forward."

He said he's already been contacted by people interested in the space, both "people related to gym uses" and others. He said he has heard rumblings about members interested in renting or somehow keeping the space as a gym under a different umbrella, but he doesn't "know of any offer or indication that anyone is seriously considering asking us to sign a lease to stay there."

He said an option like that would have to be "weighed against everything else" and that regardless of who takes over the space, a remodel is necessary.

"The space is old. They've been there for 35 years," he said.

Jordan said that the YMCA would "be happy to help in any capacity if members wanted to try to create a community center.

"We also know, like I said, that the facility is going to need some major rework if its going to remain. ... I wish we could stay, but unfortunately, it's not what we're going to be able to do."

Online Editor Elena Kadvany can be emailed at ekadvany@paweekly.com.

Comments

There are no comments yet for this post

Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.

Email:


Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Choose a category: *

Since this is the first comment on this story a new topic will also be started in Town Square! Please choose a category that best describes this story.

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields