Can Vernon Hills, Waukegan YMCAs be saved?

Support from the public has been strong, but whether it will be enough to keep Lake County Family YMCA facilities in Vernon Hills and Waukegan open past Halloween remains to be seen.

Discussions on various fronts are under way and YMCA officials on Thursday said they have launched a capital campaign to raise between $5 million and $8 million by Oct. 31 to keep both operations afloat.

“We have had an outpouring of community concern and the desire to help,” said Anne O’Connell, vice president of marketing and communications. “Our board has authorized us to try and meet that goal.”

Any donations (check only, no cash) will be refunded if the goal isn’t met.

“It’s a very fluid process, as you might expect,” O’Connell said.

The nonprofit group announced last week it would close the Vernon Hills Y at 700 Lakeview Parkway, and the Waukegan Y at 2000 Western Ave., on Oct. 31 because of financial problems.

Records show the nonprofit spent $1.1 million more than it received in revenues in 2010 and 2011 and assets dropped 42 percent from $5.4 million to $3.1 million. Drops in memberships and donations have exacerbated the financial problems, O’Connell said.

The YMCA said it reduced costs and tried to boost membership and also reached out to potential community and private partners without success, before announcing the closings. All money received by the YMCA, including current contributions, pay for staff, maintenance, programs and debt payments, according to the organization.

“We need to address our ongoing operating deficits, including the elimination of our debt, so that we can again have long-term sustainability,” YMCA Board Member Anne Veit said in a statement.

Childcare programs will remain open until Nov. 21, the day before Thanksgiving, to give parents of the 155 children enrolled time to find alternatives.

Meanwhile, the Vernon Hills village board and Vernon Hills Park District board of commissioners held a special session Thursday night to brainstorm the situation. Vernon Hills Mayor Roger Byrne, who worked to bring the YMCA to town on the site of a former driving range, said earlier in the day that he was “as shocked as anybody” when told of the closing.

“Going forward, that building will be used in the same way, shape and form,” he said. “My intent is to keep it going. Potentially, the Y may not be running it.”

The facility opened in 2001 in the Continental Executive Parke next to the Glacier Ice Arena. The village pledged $500,000 toward construction, was has been paid in 10 equal annual installments. The village also has given the YMCA social service grants over the years, including $8,000 this year.

The YMCA’s full day care facility and indoor pool available to all ages are valuable services not available elsewhere in town, officials believe.

“Those are two amenities that are interesting to us from the perspective of is that something our residents want to see us, as a public entity, involved in,” said Jeff Fougerousse, executive director of the Vernon Hills Park District.

Byrne said having the park district run the facility would be logical but that there was much information to be gathered and studied before any decision is made.

“The reason for the meeting is to save the place,” he said. “I think we’ll figure something out.”

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