Just in case it was to be goodbye, members at the Northern Lake YMCA in Waukegan held a pot luck lunch Wednesday for staff on what was scheduled to be the last day for the long-standing community institution.
Lunch turned out to be more of a celebration, with news the Y's board of directors decided to keep the facility open through the end of the year.
"The thought is to give the community more time," to raise funds, said Anne O'Connell, vice president of marketing and communications. "There's a lot of effort, there's a lot of passion."
While not the last-minute save announced Monday for the Central Lake YMCA in Vernon Hills, weeks of intense effort have resulted in keeping open both branches operated by the organization. However, Waukegan's path to a more permanent answer appears to be more difficult.
The not-for-profit organization announced in late September the two facilities would close Oct. 31 because of a lack of resources to sustain operations. The YMCA said it has $6 million in existing debt, $800,000 in annual operating deficits and declining membership.
"We hope that this two-month period will afford the community the opportunity to work together with the YMCA staff to develop a plan to establish long-term sustainability for the Northern Lake YMCA and the continuation of Y services in Waukegan," Y board Chairman Diane Fleming said in a statement. "Due to the complex nature of our financial situation, this extension is being made pending any unforeseen developments."
Another "Save Our Y" meeting is planned for 10 a.m. Friday, Nov. 2 at Park Place, 414 S. Lewis Ave., Waukegan. Waukegan Township Supervisor Patricia Jones and Mayor Bob Sabonjian have been working to save the facility but no deep-pocketed solution has surfaced as in Vernon Hills.
There, a tentative pact has been accepted in principle by the Y with details in progress.
It would have the Vernon Hills Park District become the operator and eventual owner of the 30,000-square foot facility and 9 acres at 700 Lakeview Parkway. It opened in 2001.
The village would lend the park district the money for the purchase from its reserves. An amount has not been disclosed but it is more than the initial $1.4 million offer that was rejected by the YMCA.
Mayor Roger Byrne was among village leaders who helped bring the facility to Vernon Hills and said it was the "right thing to do" to work toward its continued operation.
In the interim, the village and park district are sharing responsibilities for inspections of the roof, mechanical systems and other building features, as part of the "due diligence" period that runs through Nov. 30.
"It should be in pretty good shape," Byrne said. "It's like buying a house, you've got to double check it."
The village and park district also are working on an agreement to outline the purchase/sale agreement.
The park district is interested in the YMCA because the indoor pool and child care program are amenities it doesn't offer.
Jeff Fougerousse, executive director of the park district, said he will work with the YMCA management team in coming weeks regarding programs, services and employees.
"There is some duplication. We just have to assess that," he said. "We're just trying to work with the staff and keep people in place (and) provide assurance we're trying to have as seamless a transition as possible."
Officials are trying to set up a public question and answer session with YMCA members for next week.