Fortier: Despite the disappearance of his former home, the YMCA Meeting Waters remains vital to the community | Chroniclers

I was Executive Director of Meeting Waters YMCA from October 1998 to May 2017. Along with several iterations of our board of directors, I led a decade of efforts to divest our building at 66 Atkinson Street to Bellows Falls to an organization or initiative. this would allow it to continue to be of benefit to the community.

As the organization’s chief of staff for 18 and a half of its 126 years, I rise to speak now because I am concerned about the damage the building situation could cause to MWYMCA’s vital services to the community at l ‘to come up.

The first discussion of handing over the building to another organization took place at a MWYMCA board meeting on January 17, 2006. The Rockingham School Board proposed to demolish the building and use the site for make up for lost parking spaces. with the expansion of the school. After a few months of deliberation, the MWYMCA board of directors voted to deny this.

After that, the board of directors stepped up efforts to sell the building. MWYMCA is a “Y Without Walls” – its programming takes place in the communities it serves and at its Y day camp facility in Springfield during the summers. The entire building at 66 Atkinson Street had only served as offices for its three full-time employees since 2013. The budget of our small non-profit organization – one of the smallest of the 2,700 YMCAs in America – does not couldn’t handle the $ 80,000 to $ 100,000. estimated repair costs (including a new fire extinguishing system, as the current one was obsolete and could no longer be maintained). We were using 5% of the space. The heating oil costs alone approached $ 20,000 per year. It made no sense to divert dollars from the financial support of families in the Rockingham area that MWYMCA serves year round with rewarding after-school child care to maintain a facility we didn’t need. Donating the facility to a community organization that could invest in the renovations was our most viable option.

After the decision in 2006 not to give up the building for parking, our board of directors and I began to promote the facility to all kinds of organizations that might have wanted to revive it for the benefit of the community. . In 2014, local citizens and philanthropists created the Bellows Falls Cultural Preservation Project with the sole purpose of restoring the facility. Their vision was very exciting for us. We waited until they got their 501-c-3 approval from the IRS and the state. Once that was achieved, they set up a GoFundMe page and wrote grants to fund the renovation of the building while lawyers for both organizations drafted a purchase and sale contract. It was around this time that the three full-time employees of MWYMCA moved to a new office in downtown Bellow Falls.

On closing day, the chairman of the board of the other organization told me that his group had changed their mind and that they were going to dissolve the association and return all donations and grants. I was emptied. We had a good faith agreement for a year. We stopped our outreach activities during this time, feeling that we had found a fantastic partner to pass on our historic building.

Christopher Glennon is the only other person or organization who contacted us subsequently. He presented a solid proposal to our board of directors. With hindsight, perhaps we should have handed over the building to the school in 2006 to make it a parking lot. Trying to “keep him alive” has created at least as much, if not more, negative media attention for a vital regional institution.

Steve Fortier writes from Alstead, NH

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