By Dustin Brown
YMCA officials have put a price tag of half a million dollars on running the Catalpa Center for another year, giving sticker shock to community leaders who had hoped to come up with enough funding to save the center from closure.
A rally to save the Catalpa Y drew more than 150 people to the corner of Catalpa Avenue and 64th Street in Ridgewood early Friday evening, where community activists pledged to halt the building's impending closure.
“We are doing everything we can to keep your community center right here,” said Nancy Greco-Shearer, the chairwoman of the Save the Catalpa YMCA Committee, to the large crowd assembled on the street. “Your voices are the voices that will make a difference here.”
But Paula Gavin, president of the YMCA of Greater New York, offered little hope for the aggressive grassroots campaign when a letter she sent only hours before the rally said a $516,000 subsidy was necessary to keep Catalpa open for another year.
Even then the funding would only delay Catalpa's closure by 12 months, pushing its last day back from June 30, 2003 to the same date in 2004.
“The YMCA will close its Catalpa YMCA operations as of June 30, 2004,” Gavin wrote in her letter dated Friday.
Although the YMCA of Greater New York pledged to chip in $100,000, that leaves $416,000 in donations the community and government would have to contribute.
“They set an unattainable goal for us, for a moderate-income community,” Greco-Shearer said. “They want $43,000 a month to keep the building running for 12 months, with absolutely no commitment and no guarantee that they'll stay in the building any longer.”
Gavin sent her letter Friday in response to a meeting held three days earlier in the offices of Borough President Helen Marshall, who is expected to submit a counter-proposal to Gavin by May 22.
Anvernette Hanna, a spokeswoman for the YMCA of Greater New York, said community leaders should offer alternatives in their proposal if they are dissatisfied with the organization's offer.
“All we've done is lay out what we anticipate it would cost us to keep the center open for an extra year,” Hanna said in a phone interview Tuesday. “It's a surprise to everybody because we've been subsidizing it year after year after year. To us it's not a surprise to see all those numbers. People hadn't realized how much it is costing us.”
Speaking at Friday's rally, state Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan (D-Ridgewood) said of Gavin's offer “that's not acceptable.”
Nolan announced she had secured $50,000 from the Assembly to contribute to Catalpa's capital expenses, which would total $197,500 in the coming year to cover wall, boiler and equipment replacements, according to Gavin's budget.
But Nolan's contribution is only one-tenth of the projected need for the year, still leaving a large gap to fill.
City Councilman Dennis Gallagher (R-Middle Village), who participated in last week's meeting at Marshall's office, said officials were looking for a greater commitment from the YMCA.
“Our objective from moment one was to keep the YMCA there long term,” Gallagher said. “I don't know who in government would make an expenditure of $197,500 for capital expenses without a commitment that that building is going to stay for a community use.”
Hanna stressed that the Catalpa YMCA will continue to offer some of its programs in other facilities like the Lutheran Covenant Church, which is being renovated at a cost of $270,000.
“All those youth programs for the 2,500 youth, we're going to do that anyway,” she said. “We're not pulling out of the community.”
Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.