Wyandotte & Leavenworth

Plans to close three KC YMCAs anger many people

Updated: 2013-03-13T14:40:39Z

By BRIAN BURNES

The Kansas City Star

Businessmen gain, and the residents of Raytown lose.

That’s how Jim Aziere, who has coached boys swimming teams for the Raytown School District for 39 years, views the announced closings of three YMCA branches and the decision to build a new YMCA in downtown Kansas City.

“The YMCA decided they wanted to take care of the businessmen downtown,” Aziere said. “The middle-class people of Raytown don’t count anymore.”

The closures affect YMCA branches in Raytown, Independence and downtown Kansas City, Kan. The announcement came Monday from the YMCA of Greater Kansas City and has drawn negative reaction from all three communities.

James Barnes, a longtime Raytown resident, was startled by the lack of any hint of plans to close the Richard C. Green Sr. Family YMCA at 10301 E. Missouri 350.

“You would think that if they were having problems, we would have heard about it,” Barnes said.

“But they sure were quiet about it. Maybe our community leaders could have engaged in a dialogue as to what our options were. But we didn’t even get a warning.

“It’s like they said, ‘We’ve decided to close this. Thank you and goodbye.’ ”

Raytown does not have a community center, Barnes added. A ballot measure to build one failed during the 1980s in part, he said, because many residents said the YMCA already met those needs.

Paula Oxler, YMCA spokeswoman, said the decision to shut down the facilities was not made quickly, but only after 24 months of research that included community focus groups and market demand analysis.

Government and school district officials in Raytown and Independence were included in the dialogue in recent weeks, Oxler said.

The decision also recognized declining enrollment trends. While about 2,000 members used the Raytown Y five years ago, Oxler said, perhaps 1,000 do today.

Jim Schultz, Independence insurance agent and mayor pro tem, said the closure of the Independence Y at 14001 E. 32nd St. would affect families most of all.

“I just think of all the families that are not going to be able to go there now,” he said.

But the Independence YMCA was more than brick and mortar to Schultz.

“The Y just aligned so well with the values of so many families in Independence,” he said. “It was at the Y where children could get good coaching and realize that learning the game was more important than keeping score.”

The Independence facility, dedicated in 1966, was built in part with public donations. A billboard-mounted thermometer installed on the east side of the old Jackson County Courthouse on Independence Square monitored the growth of the building fund.

Schultz wondered whether some exercise needs could be met by the city. Two Independence community centers — the Sermon and Palmer centers — offer exercise areas.

During the warmer months, residents can use the city’s Adventure Oasis aquatic center.

The only indoor swimming pool that he could think of is at the Henley Aquatic Center, operated by the Independence School District, which offers public memberships.

“It’s disappointing,” he said.

Paul Schepers, a Kansas City, Kan., lawyer who lives and works near the Eighth Street Family YMCA at 900 N. Eighth St., used the same word to describe his reaction.

A new YMCA in downtown Kansas City will be little comfort, he added.

“What will be a boom to downtown Kansas City, Mo., will certainly have a very negative impact on downtown Kansas City, Kan.,” he said.

“The YMCA of Greater Kansas City is supposed to serve the entire metro area. My concern is that they are abandoning a significant part of it in Kansas City, Kan.”

The last day of operations at the three facilities will be April 12, but Oxler emphasized that the YMCA will continue to seek to be a presence in the three communities.

It is coordinating a swimming class for second-graders in the Independence School District at Henley Aquatic Center, she said, and a Head Start program conducted at the Raytown Y will continue there through late June while officials seek a new location.

“We will continue to look for other partnerships in those areas,” Oxler said.

To reach Brian Burnes, call 816-234-4120 or send email to bburnes@kcstar.com.

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