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Copyright 2014 Sun Journal
Sun Journal (Lewiston, Maine)

LEWISTON -- The city and the Auburn-Lewiston YMCA are quietly working on a deal that may save a popular, city-run gymnastics program squeezed by tightening budgets.

"We're looking at a partnership with the city of Lewiston," Steven Wallace, YMCA CEO, said. A tentative plan would allow the program to stay in the Lewiston Armory, but would be administered by the YMCA instead of the city's Recreation Department.

Fees would remain the same.

"For us, it is about the kids," said Wallace, who declined to talk in detail about the deal with the city since it is not complete.

Deputy City Administrator Phil Nadeau confirmed that talks are underway to save the program. Though he declined to name who the city is talking with, he did say he was "very optimistic" that an agreement could be finalized at the City Council's Aug. 12 meeting.

"It would be wonderful if this all gets pulled together this quickly, because that's rare in this business," Nadeau said.

In the past year, the longtime program served more than 280 children, from 3[1/2]-year-old Tiny Tots to high school seniors from local schools.

All were told last week that their program might end.

In an effort to save money, the city eliminated four recreation department positions, including the people who had traditionally set up and torn down the parallel bars, vaults, floor mats and other gymnastic equipment for each practice.

"It's extremely labor intensive," Nadeau said.

Wallace said the YMCA's action to save the program is natural, in part because it is already affiliated with the program. Though it has been run by the city, competitions between the Lewiston teams and other young people were held within a YMCA league.

In fact, any children who competed had to sign up as members of the YMCA in order to participate.

"Steve Wallace was willing to sit and talk with the coach," Denise Gauthier, treasurer for the Gymnastics Parents Group of Lewiston Auburn, said. "It is looking very positive. There are some changes we're going to have to adapt to. That's OK as long as the program continues."

Ending the program would have been catastrophic to children who are accustomed to the program, Heather Benson, the secretary of the parents' group, said.

Her daughter, Abbie, has been one of the program's successes.

"She has loved it," Benson said of Abbie, who is almost 10 years old. "She has just grown so much in her self-esteem and in her confidence. It has been amazing to watch the skills she has learned, not just the athletic ability but the life skills she has gained from the group."

If the program ended, Heather Benson said she would be unable to afford another.

Parents and children say there are no other sports that teach the same skills, particularly for girls.

Jamie St. Pierre began with the program when she was 6. Now 17, St. Pierre won the top prize on the balance beam in a regional competition in May in Connecticut.

It's her sport. For her, there are no other sports.

"I feel like I would be bored without it," St. Pierre said. Without gymnastics, she and her friends would be less healthy and more liable to get into trouble, she said.

The gymnastics program is on the agenda for the City Council meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Lewiston City Hall. However, Nadeau insisted that a deal will not be finalized.

"We clearly have a party that is very, very serious about moving forward with a proposal," Nadeau said. A little more time is needed, though.

"We have no agreement at this point," he said. "We are still in negotiations."


July 29, 2014




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