Catalpa keeps up fight to save YMCA

By Dustin Brown

The leader of the YMCA of Greater New York was greeted by shirts, signs and balloons protesting the impending closure of the Catalpa YMCA when she visited the facility last week to speak with staff members.

The fight to save the Catalpa Y is moving forward with fervor one month after the parent YMCA organization announced it would shutter the Ridgewood site at the end of June because the building is considered inadequate and its budget continually runs at a deficit.

Chris Landano, a longtime volunteer at the YMCA on 64th Street and Catalpa Avenue, has organized a group called the Saving the YMCA Committee, which has mounted a Web site – www.savecatalpaymca.com – to advance its cause.

“We have a strong family here that doesn't want to see this place close,” Landano said. “There's no need for it to close.”

Although many of Catalpa's youth programs will continue to be run from alternate sites, the adult fitness program, nursery school and aerobics classes will be dismantled with the loss of the building.

Paula Gavin, the president of the YMCA of Greater New York, which runs the Catalpa branch and ordered its closure, visited the facility April 2 to meet with staff members.

“She met with the staff last week to basically listen to their concerns and to work with them on continuing youth programs that we will continue to offer at different locations,” said Anvernette Hanna, a spokeswoman for the YMCA of Greater New York.

Landano, who was not present at the meeting but spoke to staff members who were, said people confronted Gavin with questions about why the facility had to close, specifically questioning how administrators came up with the figure of $4 million that would be required to renovate the building if it were to remain open.

“It was very nice of her to come. She didn't have to come,” Landano said. “She came, she heard the people.”

The Catalpa YMCA began occupying the former Queens County Court House building in 1965, and YMCA officials cited that very history as one of the reasons why it has to close. Not having been built as a YMCA, the structure simply could not meet the organization's standards for its facilities. More than $500,000 has already been spent on emergency repairs over the past five years.

But for the people who call Catalpa home, the YMCA transcends the limits of its building.

“They want all their YMCAs to have pools and tracks and look all the same. This is never gonna be like that,” Landano said. “What we have here right now is taking care of the community and much more. They say this building wasn't built to be a YMCA. But guess what? We made it a YMCA and it's a damn good YMCA.”

Hanna said Gavin is responding to every letter and call she receives about the closure to explain the decision.

The goal of Landano's committee is to raise enough money to fill in the deficit in the center's operating budget. So far they have collected pledges that total nearly $200,000 from people in the community, money that they would collect if the parent organization agrees to give them another chance.

“We feel very confident that if they Y let us stay here for a year, we would make money,” Landano said.

If they fail in that goal, Landano said, only then would Catalpa's devotees raise the white flag and give in. “If they gave us that opportunity and we stayed here for a year and we didn't make money,” he said, “we would help them close it.”

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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