By Nancy Guenther Chapman
NORWALK, Conn. – William Gonzalez was shocked: he hadn’t heard that the Norwalk YMCA is closing.
“That’s so bad for the community,” said the Stamford man, whose 3-year-old daughter, Gabriella, has been taking swimming lessons.
The Y announced Wednesday that it will close its 84-year-old facility at 370 West Ave. on Dec. 31. Its childcare programs will continue, as they take place in five area schools and at two YMCA-owned buildings on the West Avenue property.
Members are invited to join other Fairfield County Ys; the joiner fee will be waived and their membership rate will be honored for 90 days. Annual memberships will be honored through their expiration date.
“That’s very generous I think,” said Norwalk Y CEO Michael Case.
Gonzalez didn’t think that would help. “Stamford is way too expensive,” he said.
The mother of an 8-year-old gymnastics student, Paula Bermudez, doesn’t know how her child can continue in the sport she has been studying for years. “It’s close to my house,” Yolanda Bermudez said, of the Norwalk Y. “It’s my town.”
Carl Gerard Cooke, chairman of the board of directors, informed members of the closure in a Thursday evening e-mail. “Like so many other businesses and nonprofit organizations in the area, the YMCA has been adversely affected by the economic downturn. Due to declining membership and donations and the cost of maintaining an 84-year-old facility, our Y does not have the financial resources necessary to operate on a long-term basis. We are losing money every month on facility operations but our child-care programming is self-sustaining.
“Closing the facility was a difficult decision for the Norwalk YMCA board of directors but it is the right decision for the Y and the community we so proudly serve.”
Case said there are 130 employees at the Y, including both full-time and part-time workers. They will be welcomed at area YMCAs, he said, although he didn’t say if there are openings.
“Ultimately we’re going to use all of the means at our disposal to help our employees that will be displaced (get jobs) at other YMCAs,” he said.
Norwalk Hospital has signed a letter of intent to purchase the property. “We do not have a definitive plan for the site at this time,” said hospital President and CEO, Dan DeBarba, in a statement. “As the community needs for health services continue to expand and we look to the future, this location and its proximity to the main campus of the hospital would be an ideal location for health care services growth and development.”
One Thursday evening Norwalk YMCA visitor said the closure will not affect her, as she lives in Westport and was only bringing her family here because of hurricane damage to the Y in her town. But, “It’s a beautiful building,” she said. “You don’t see that many old buildings.”