Oak Park would suffer if the YMCA moved to another town

Opinion

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As members of the Oak Park YMCA, we are very concerned about plans brewing to move the YMCA facility out of our city. The following items represent our observations. We have found that:

The YMCA has been in Oak Park for 100 years, providing services like the world-class TOPS (The Oak Park Swimmers) swim team, childcare, numerous programs serving the youth and adults of our community, low-cost housing for indigent people and providing opportunities for Oak Park citizens to improve the quality of their lives. These programs have served Oak Park well, and we would suffer a lack of needed services with their loss.

The current president and CEO of the YMCA, Scott Gaalaas, has alienated the neighborhoods surrounding the YMCA, the Oak Park Plan Commission, and the village in general by presenting an impractical expansion plan that was overwhelmingly opposed. As a result, this president has requested and received approval from the existing board to abandon the current facility and move the YMCA to Forest Park.

The existing YMCA is within walking distance of some 60 percent of its current membership, providing one more ingredient to the dynamic neighborhood environment of the Madison Street corridor. Closing this YMCA would limit the fitness opportunities for that current 60 percent of members who can't walk to a new facility in Forest Park.

One hundred and ten residents currently occupy the upper floors of the YMCA and will be displaced with no alternative housing options. Will they become homeless if the single room occupancy units are eliminated, placing a burden on the already limited amount of affordable housing in the area? This is not being addressed. Isn't this part of the mission of the YMCA? The federal government thought so when it gave the YMCA funds to improve and maintain its housing facilities, funds that the YMCA will have to now pay back if it closes?#34;some $350,000.

Scott Gaalaas has made a commitment to move the YMCA out of Oak Park. He has been skillful at convincing the board that this is the only option and the current board is supporting this move. Those opposed to these plans are resigning from the board and the new "hand-picked" members that were submitted for approval April 12, will most certainly approve these new plans.

The YMCA board of directors has the ability to correct this situation and repair the damaged relationship with the Oak Park community. Unfortunately, it has continually deferred to Mr. Gaalaas. Most recently, our non-profit YMCA has spent some $50,000/year to hire a public relations firm to promote the move to Forest Park and to supply damage control for any opposition.

Mr. Gaalaas has consistently filled board vacancies with non-member supporters and non-Oak Park residents. These are people who are not in touch with the general membership of the local community, and they are probably not committed to the existing service area. Locally oriented activities fulfilling the needs of the Oak Park community should be the goal of leadership and should be the guiding principle in YMCA policy.

We, as members, prefer a president and board that is committed to working to improve the existing facility and expand programming. We encourage the YMCA board to fulfill their duty to keep the organization alive and viable. We encourage the community to express their opinions on this matter to the board members.

This is an excellent time to consider replacing Scott Gaalaas with a president who is oriented toward cooperating with all members within the community, including the board, the membership and the village?#34;someone who has the skills and aptitude to build bridges.

Robert Bruce Landis, John Brancel

* Editor's note: Scott Gaalaas has said publicly only that the YMCA is looking at options outside of Oak Park as well as within the village.

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