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YMCA considers building near school

By Kathy Chaffin
Salisbury PostThe Rowan County YMCA is setting up a study group to look at the feasibility of building a new Y beside West Rowan High School.
Jamie Morgan, chief executive officer of the Rowan County YMCA, said the 14-acre tract on N.C. 801 is being donated by June and Jim Misenheimer. “We have not transferred a deed yet,” he said. “It has been pledged for the future.”
The former West Rowan Y facility ó the old West Rowan Middle School on East Main Street in Cleveland ó closed last July. Morgan said the branch’s board of managers decided there were not enough members to justify keeping the program going in a building of that age and size.
Morgan said the West Branch had 1,000 members at one time, but that number had dropped to a low of 800.
“It had been difficult to keep the West Y going for the past 13 years from a financial standpoint,” he said. “We were just kind of at a critical point in the road.
“We were going to continue to operate out of our existing facility or we were going to take a completely new path, and the volunteers out there elected to try to take a completely new path.”
Even when the program had 1,000 members (which translated to about 500 membership units because families pay a reduced rate), the West Branch had a considerably smaller membership than the East and South branches. The East Branch has 5,000 members (about 2,300 membership units), and the South Branch has 4,000 members (fewer than 2,000 membership units).
The Main Branch, the J.F. Hurley Family YMCA on Jake Alexander Boulevard, has 10,500 members (about 5,000 membership units), bringing the total countywide membership to almost 20,000. “We touch a lot of lives here in Rowan County,” Morgan said.
When the West Branch closed, he said “a good number” of its members simply started going to the Hurley facility. Members of any branch are entitled to go to the other branches at any time.
“If you’re a member at one Rowan County branch,” he said, “you’re a member at all of them. We are truly one YMCA in Rowan County.”
Participants in the West Branch’s youth sports program started practicing and playing at the Main Branch. John Peterson, who oversaw the West Y, is now the youth sports director over both programs at the Hurley Y.
When the West Branch closed, Morgan said, the remaining staff members were given opportunities to relocate to one of the other three facilities. Some of them were part-time employees, however, and chose to find jobs closer to home.
The Rowan County YMCA continues to operate two after-school programs in western Rowan at Hurley and Mount Ulla elementary schools. Morgan said there are about 50 children in the Hurley program and 20 in the Mount Ulla program.
While the study group decides whether it’s feasible to build a new West Branch, Morgan said, the Rowan County YMCA is trying to sell the old site. “We have it listed with a realtor, but have had no offers.”
The Y purchased the old school from the Rowan-Salisbury School System in 1994. “It was enormously expensive to try to keep up a building that old,” Morgan said, “but we did maintain it.” The Y, for example, put in new mechanical units and replaced the roof.
Even then, “it was just hard to attract people to an older building,” he said. “They want something that’s new and state-of-the-art that they can be proud of.”
Despite the difficulties of operating the West Branch, Morgan said the program affected a lot of lives. “I’m proud of what we were able to accomplish out there.”
Though it no longer has a building, he said the West Y program remains “fully functional.”
“We’re still trying to have an impact on the community,” he said.
The branch’s board of managers, headed up by Bob Smith, continues to meet monthly and will be part of the feasibility study group. Morgan said they are also looking for others interested in helping with the study.
“If we were to build a new facility, there would be a major fundraiser that would take place,” he said. “Obviously, it would take a lot of work to make that happen, and with the economy the way it is, that doesn’t help that cause.”
Morgan said the Rowan County YMCA started out offering programs in the East and South communities without facilities, gradually building financial support for their capital campaigns from the ground up. “That’s what we’re hoping to duplicate at West,” he said.
It cost about $5 million to build the South Branch and $6 million for the East Branch. The Hurley YMCA cost $10 million.
“That gives you an idea of the kind of dollars that are required to build YMCAs,” Morgan said. “We’ve just got to do our homework, and hopefully, we will have the support of the community and hopefully, the timing will be right with the economy.”
Anyone in western Rowan County who is interested in helping with the feasibility study can contact Morgan at 704-216-9622. “We would love to have their input,” he said.
Contact Kathy Chaffin at 704-797-4249 or kchaffin@salisburypost.com.

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