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Vernon Hills Village, Park District Officials Looking for Ways to Help YMCA

The Central Lake YMCA is set to close Oct. 31.

The Lake County Family YMCA, Vernon Hills Village Board and the Vernon Hills Park District Board have agreed to work together to try to find a way to help the Central Lake YMCA, which is set to close at the end of this month.

At a special meeting of the village committee-of-the-whole and park district commissioners Oct. 4, Mayor Roger Byrne proposed holding some two-on-two meetings to discuss options for helping the Central Lake YMCA, located at 700 Lakeview Pkwy. It was a suggestion that was met favorably by both trustees and park district commissioners.

"I'm very, very fond of the Y. My granddaughter went through your daycare. She learned to swim there," said Trustee James Schultz. "From my seat, from my elected position, I want to keep that building open. We're not going to solve anything here tonight, but we have a lot of opportunities."

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The reason for the Oct. 31 closure, as stated in a press release on the Lake County Family YMCA website, is "due to insufficient financial resources to sustain operations on a long-term basis."

Interim CEO Hal Katz put the situation into perspective while talking to the two boards at the Oct. 4 meeting. He said the Lake County Family YMCA has suffered in recent economic times through declining membership combined with difficulty in finding contributing income. Membership at the Vernon Hills facility has dropped 20 percent since 2007/08, Katz said, and is now down to about 1,100 families.

"Your membership comes down 20 percent (but) your utilities don't come down 20 percent," said Katz.

The Lake County Family YMCA has $6 million in debt, he said.

The YMCA Board came to the decision "that they were no longer comfortable with the YMCA continuing to operate," said Katz.

Community Support

"We've been overwhelmed with the amount of support we've received from both communities," said Katz. He said the YMCA is "far more than a health club" and that it is instead a place where people gather to socialize.

"We're all deeply saddened by this," said Katz.

Katz said the support has been so overwhelming that people have come in off the street and offered to write checks to help the financial situation. One man offered to donate a $1 million inheritance.

He said that through public awareness and communication with the communities, "hopefully we can put something together."

Finding Solutions

Byrne suggested the two-on-two meetings to help find options for the YMCA and look at the actual financial numbers.

"I think there's not much we can collectively do until we have some numbers in front of us," said Byrne.

Katz said he met with Village Manager Mike Allison and Park District Executive Director Jeff Fougerousse earlier this week to discuss a number of potential solutions, including the possibility of collecting annual pledges from the village and other local communities and corporations.

Park District Commissioner Bruce Robbins asked if there is a specific timeframe to find a solution.

Katz explained that the bank hasn't accelerated any action against the Lake County Family YMCA and has instead consistently communicated that the YMCA should bring forth a proposal to save the organization. Katz said he is sure that if he approaches the bank officials and tells them he is working on a solution, "they're not going to pull the plug so long as I am communicative with them."

Anne O'Connell, vice president of marketing for the Lake County Family YMCA, said a similar meeting was slated to be held in Waukegan Oct. 5 to discuss options for saving the organization.

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