NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — The West Bay Family YMCA will close its doors next year as part of a consolidation effort, the YMCA of Greater Providence has announced.
In a message to the branch’s members, Steven G. O’Donnell, CEO of the YMCA of Greater Providence and former superintendent of the Rhode Island State Police, wrote that the West Bay Family YMCA “has struggled financially for many years.”
The West Bay location’s resources will be consolidated at the YMCA’s Kent County and South County branches, which are located in Warwick and Wakefield, respectively. That transition will occur in 2019.
“It is well known that there has been a lack of sustained maintenance over the years to the infrastructure repairs needed at the West Bay Family Y, and the cost to repair would not be a fiscally prudent decision,” he wrote. “The renovations needed to bring this facility up to minimal standards have been assessed at approximately $2 million. In addition, upgrading this building into a state-of-the-art facility would be more than twice the amount of this cost … The costs associated with bringing this facility to where we believe it deserves to be is not financially feasible.”
According to O’Donnell, the YMCA’s Board of Directors requested an evaluation of all the properties under the organization’s umbrella – including their value and the cost of pursuing renovations and upgrades – after he was hired as CEO in November 2016. In early 2017, the organization established a Strategic Planning Committee, and on Sept. 26, the board voted to close the West Bay Family YMCA.
O’Donnell also wrote that he and his team are currently establishing a transition plan for employees and members at West Bay. He wrote that any activities offered at West Bay will be coordinated with the same instructors at either the Kent County YMCA or the South County YMCA. Both locations are about 11 miles in either direction of the West Bay branch.
O’Donnell’s message indicates the YMCA is in the “process of establishing a transition plan and putting a team in place to effectuate this change.” The organization is working to move West Bay staff to other locations, he wrote, while “all of the programming and activities that are coordinated at West Bay will be offered with the same instructors at either Kent County YMCA or South County YMCA.”
He adds, “West Bay’s after-school programs (Out of School Time), as well as the contract to manage the North Kingstown Town Beach, will continue to operate as it always has. Any proceeds from the sale of the West Bay property will be redirected into the South County and/or Kent County facilities to enhance member experiences at these facilities.”
Any of the West Bay YMCA’s 2,700 members who move to another location will receive 50 percent off their membership cost for 2019, according to O’Donnell.
“We recognize our decision has significant impact on our families, but also recognize it is our responsibility to provide the highest quality of service and facilities to our members,” he wrote. “We are asking you to visit one of the other branches within the GPYMCA and bring your community and culture with you to this new environment.”
O’Donnell held three community meetings in recent days, including one Tuesday night, at the West Bay location at 7540 Post Road in North Kingstown. The room was near capacity at Tuesday’s gathering, and the response to the YMCA’s decision was overwhelmingly negative.
“The Y has failed you,” he told those present. “The Y has not put the money into it.”
O’Donnell took questions from the audience, with concerns ranging from how the other YMCA branches would handle the additional foot and vehicle traffic to West Bay becoming a “sacrificial lamb” for the organization’s larger financial issues. Some in attendance inquired about a “stay of execution” for the West Bay location to provide an opportunity to raise funds for improvements.
O’Donnell said he had presented that option to the organization’s executive board in a “cursory conversation,” and that there is a possibility of pursuing that course of action if a definitive timeframe is associated. He did not offer any guarantees, while audience members said they would begin exploring fundraising avenues.
Paul Bovenzi, who frequents the YMCA with his wife and children, said the closure of the West Bay YCMA will cause “damage to the community.” He said several members are unable to travel to the other YMCA branches. He also questioned the cost estimates O’Donnell presented regarding renovations to the building.
Lila Bovenzi has started a change.org petition, titled “Save the West Bay YMCA,” and more than 330 people had signed it as of press time.
The petition reads: “We the citizens of North Kingstown have learned of the impending closure of the West Bay YMCA located at 7540 Post Road. While we understand there are significant financial difficulties, we urge you to consider making every effort to raise the required funds to keep the YMCA open. This YMCA is a community gathering place where people of all ages enjoy the social, health, and wellness benefits of your facility and programming. It is a valuable and significant asset to the residents of North Kingstown, and its closure would be an immense and devastating loss to both members and the community at large. We implore you to reconsider this decision and express our sincere devotion in support of any efforts to save the West Bay branch of the YMCA.”
North Kingstown Economic Development Advisory Board Chairman Bjorn Wellenius said the move to close the branch seemed “counterintuitive,” as housing developments are finished in the area and employee figures at Quonset continue to climb.
“It is a real shame that the West Bay YMCA will close, another blow to the economic recovery of Post Road,” he said. “The West Bay YMCA contributes to the quality of life in North Kingstown. Driving 10 miles to Warwick or Wakefield, where members are expected to go once our branch closes, would not replace this critical role … A well-maintained and somewhat larger facility would attract new members, which currently could not be accommodated.”
In addition to the West Bay, Kent County and South County locations, the YMCA of Greater Providence’s properties include the Newman Family YMCA in Seekonk, Massachusetts; the East Side/Mt. Hope YMCA in Providence; the Bayside YMCA in Barrington; the Cranston YMCA; Camp Fuller in South Kingstown; Camp Shepard in Smithfield; and Camp Massasoit in Cranston.