Washington YMCA expansion plan ready to try again

An artist's illustration of the revised Washington YMCA expansion plan.  Voters turned down a...
An artist's illustration of the revised Washington YMCA expansion plan. Voters turned down a bond proposal last summer and supporters revised both the plan and funding.(KCRG)
Published: May. 23, 2017 at 4:59 PM CDT
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Supporters of a big YMCA expansion in Washington say they’re ready for round two. That is, another attempt to find enough funding to make the multi-million dollar project possible.

Last August, voters in that community turned down a three million dollar bond vote called by the city to help the YMCA complete funding for the project. The plan unveiled recently now calls for all donor and no tax dollars.

The plan to build a new YMCA in Washington, replacing a 93-year-old building, seemed like it was gathering speed last summer. Supporters like fund raising co-chair Ed Week said the group had about $6-million dollars in hand—money both from private donors and a pledge of 32% of the total project cost from the Washington County Riverboat Foundation.

All that remained was a $3-million dollar bond vote by residents who were promised discounted Y memberships if the added tax were approved.

The answer, though, was a clear “no” with 75 percent of voters opposed to higher property taxes to support the Y.

Supporters went back to the drawing board to regroup. Rachel Nicola, another fund raising co-chair, doesn’t believe the referendum vote was a rejection of the YMCA project itself.

“There are many Y supporters in town who may have voted against the referendum but that doesn’t color their thinking about how they want a successful Y in Washington,” she said.

So Week and Nicola say the plan this time is to break the project into more manageable chunks and use only donated dollars or grant money.

The first phase, $9-million dollars in all, would go up on ground next to the city’s planned “wellness park” rec area along West 5th Street. The idea is to put up a new building that would house new basketball courts, a walking track, fitness area and meeting rooms for service clubs.

The Y would keep using a leaking pool, built in 1924, until a second campaign could raise an additional $3.5-million dollars. The price tag for both projects would be about $12.5-million dollars.

It could also mean, at least for a time, two YMCA buildings in operation. But Amy Schulte, interim CEO, says that wouldn’t be a huge obstacle because the Y operates at a number of different sites now.

“Right now, our programming is kind of spread out throughout the community anyway so we already have that issue,” Schulte said.

She said the plan now is to spend the rest of the year raising more donations with the hope to start actual building sometime in the latter part of 2018.