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updated: 10/9/2012 9:51 PM

YMCA to host community forum on pending closings

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Lake County Family YMCA officials will host a community forum Wednesday at the Vernon Hills facility, 700 Lakeview Parkway, as the effort to avert an Oct. 31 shutdown of operations there and in Waukegan continues.

Interim CEO Hal Katz and finance director Jim Malecha will answer questions, provide information and discuss possibilities to keep the facilities open at the "Help Save the Y" forum scheduled for 7 p.m.

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The session is the latest in a flurry of activity for the nonprofit organization after it announced Sept. 28 it would close both facilities because of financial problems.

Since then, YMCA executives have met with community leaders in Waukegan and Vernon Hills and launched a fundraising campaign to raise $5 million to $8 million.

"Financially, we've been operating at a loss the last couple of years," Malecha said Monday. "We have a pretty sizable mortgage we have to cover and $6 million worth of debt."

Malecha said the organization has been losing about $800,000 a year, as a result of drops in membership due to the economy and an increase in competition. Waukegan, for example, had 2,400 members in 2005 but now has about 1,200, he said.

"It's been hard to maintain our core memberships, and (carrying) this heavy load of debt on the two buildings, it's been difficult to keep the doors open," he said.

Malecha said the organization for some time has been looking for ways to attract new members, operate more efficiently and form affiliations or partnerships, to no avail.

"The board was faced with a decision it didn't want to make, and it comes as a surprise to many people," he said.

Last week, the Vernon Hills village board and Vernon Hills Park District board met in a special session to discuss the matter.

"We're interested in seeing them continue to operate, but there wasn't anything conclusive," Village Manager Mike Allison said. "There are a lot of moving pieces."

A similar meeting sponsored by Waukegan Township was held last Friday.

Anne O'Connell, vice president of marketing and communications for the YMCA, said there have been a lot of questions, but support for the campaign has been good.

"We've had a lot of interest, a lot of support. It's overwhelming," she said.

Malecha said officials may not need to raise the entire amount but still need a substantial commitment to show the mortgage holder.

"We have to show a plan that works," he said.

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