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Topeka Capital-Journal (Kansas)

Topekan Tom Dudley has swum five times a week at the Downtown YMCA for years.

This Friday, he might swim his last lap.

The pool at the Downtown YMCA, 421 S.W. Van Buren St., will close indefinitely starting Friday, the agency disclosed Monday. The decision should save the agency $200,000 a year - an attempt to combat dwindling funds and increasing operating costs.

"It has a lot has to do with age of Downtown Y and the cost of operating a pool as large as the pool we have here," Charlie Lord, president and CEO, said Monday. "It just got to the point that we have to do something, and this was the most effective thing we could do to help our cash flow and finances."

The YMCA also will be shortening its hours.

Starting June 2 and for the foreseeable future, the downtown location will close two hours earlier, and the Southwest YMCA pool, 3536 S.W. Chelsea, will close one hour earlier.

Also, the downtown and North Topeka locations will be closed Sundays in June, July and August, he said.

The moves are expected to save another $5,000 this summer, he added.

While slashing costs was the primary factor behind the decisions, the lap-only pool downtown didn't fit the family-oriented mission of the agency or the needs of 65 percent of the membership, who are families, Lord said. The downtown location also struggles with use, as people continue to move out of central Topeka.

The news discouraged Dudley, who visited the front desk Monday to ensure he could get a refund for the months he won't use this year. He said he was pulling for the "12th-hour miracle" Lord told him it would take to keep the downtown pool going.

"This is a terrific place to swim," he said. "It's what a Y ought to be like."

The Topeka YMCA will work with those who want refunds, Lord said. It also has decided to offer frequent downtown pool users a free pass for one month, so they can try out the other branches, he said.

Two-parent families can have access to the three YMCA facilities for $708 a year, or $59 a month. Single adult memberships cost $516 a year or $43 per month.

"We want them to get used to and to feel at home with our other two Y facilities," Lord said.

But Dudley doesn't plan on that. The downtown pool, he said, is a lap pool only, aside from a few aerobics classes. The nearest pool to him, 1936 N.W. Tyler St., is geared more toward children, and the other, 3536 S.W. Chelsea, is across town, "where the rich folks live," he said.

"We need to take care of the people on this side of town," Dudley said. "We need to take care of the people who really need it."

The closure also will affect as many as 12 lifeguards and instructors, Lord said, but there should be opportunities for them to work at the other locations.

Lifeguard Zac McCall, 24, has applied to be a custodian at the downtown location. If that falls through, he said, he doubts he could get another lifeguard job this summer - those positions at the other YMCA locations likely already are filled. Instead, he has turned to the classifieds on Craigslist.

McCall, who said he usually logs about 35 hours a week at the Downtown YMCA, estimated at least 20 people swim during his daytime shift. He said he was surprised by the announcement, which he officially learned Monday.

"The pool draws a lot of people, so that might not be a good move in the long run," McCall said. "If it was part of a plan to close down more of the facility, that would make more sense."

Lord said he didn't expect any more cuts to services for a while.

The space of the 120,000-gallon indoor pool will sit unused for now, he said. The board will spend the next few months trying to determine a future for the space, whether that is renovation or, perhaps, reopening the pool if the agency can bring in the necessary cash flow.

There is a chance the downtown pool could reopen eventually, Lord said, but the agency has to get its finances in order first.

The Topeka YMCA's 2012 tax filing indicates it brought in $4.1 million in revenue, compared to almost $4.3 million the year before. With operating expenses at $4.2 million, the agency overspent revenue by $127,195. It ended 2012 with $267,080 cash on hand.

Finances have been a struggle since the economic downturn in 2008, Lord said. Contributions are the main culprit, especially when paired with the increasing costs of operations. Between 2011 and 2012, contributions fell $171,350.

The downtown pool costs $200,000 per year to operate, but that cost goes higher every year, he said. The pool's filtering system, he said, is 43 years old.

"The cost of operating the Downtown Y as a whole, and the pool in particular, just gets more expensive every year as the building gets older," Lord said. "It's just become very costly to operate, considering the number of participants we've had using it."

The downtown pool regularly attracts between 50 and 100 "hardcore users," with another 100 or so who swim occasionally, he said. That compares to the 1,000 at the southwest branch and more than 400 at the north location, he said.

 
May 20, 2014
 
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