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Tears greet announcement of Y closure

The Northern Lake YMCA located 2000 Western Avenue Waukegan. | Thomas Delany Jr.~Sun-Times Media

The Northern Lake YMCA located at 2000 Western Avenue in Waukegan. | Thomas Delany Jr.~Sun-Times Media

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What’s next?

Lake County Family YMCA members can transfer at no cost to the following YMCAs: Kenosha YMCA Callahan Family Branch, Kenosha; Hastings Lake YMCA, Lindenhurst; Foglia YMCA, Lake Zurich; and North Suburban YMCA, Northbrook.

Questions regarding the Lake County Family YMCA should be directed to the Northern Lake YMCA branch at (847) 360-9622.

A Save the Y meeting will be held at 10 a.m. Friday, Jan. 4, at Waukegan Township Park Place, 414 S. Lewis Ave., Waukegan.

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Updated: February 27, 2013 3:11AM

A 120-year-old history between the YMCA and the city of Waukegan will end when the Northern Lake YMCA on the city’s North Side ceases operations at 1 p.m. Monday.

The Y is broke, and the decision to shutter the 25-year-old facility at 2000 Western Ave., was announced Friday before a group of about 50 members, some who urged a court battle to keep it open and some who silently shed tears.

Hal Katz, interim CEO of the Lake County Family YMCA, called the closure “not the end of the road, just a new chapter,” and encouraged members and supporters to keep exploring options to re-open.

“I’ve been amazed at the outpouring of support,” Katz said. “I’m just sorry we failed, at least at this point. But I’m hopeful you will find a way to develop a plan and re-open.”

The Y is running a deficit of more than $6 million. A decision, announced Sept. 28, to close both branches by Oct. 31 was delayed while supporters scrambled to raise money.

The Central Lake Family YMCA, built in 2001 in Vernon Hills, has been purchased by the village of Vernon Hills for $2 million and operated by the Vernon Hills Park District. Supporters of the Waukegan Y contributed nearly $50,000, money that will now be returned to donors.

Katz said all Y employees, an estimated 100 people, excluding those hired by the Vernon Hills Park District, will be let go and that the Waukegan Y will be turned over to an independent trustee who will “find ways to maximize assets” and who will oversee the sale of the building, which has been priced at nearly $2 million.

But supporters, including retired Lake County Judge David Hall, whose family was instrumental in first bringing the YMCA to Waukegan in 1892 ­­— the Waukegan Y was formally chartered in 1912 — may seek legal recourse to keep the Y open.

Hall, who has raised nearly $9,000 in a Save the Y 100-mile walkathon since Dec. 1, said the YMCA board is operating in violation of its bylaws, which require that two seats be held by Waukegan-area people. The board currently has no such representation, and has had no one from Waukegan since Hall resigned last summer due to illness.

Hall also argued that the Y board does possess the resources to maintain operations for three more months, time that could be used by supporters to contact more potential donors and to possibly purchase the building.

“The Waukegan Y saved the Central Lake Y in the 1980s and it built the Vernon Hills Y,” Hall said. “Morally, they owe it to us to give us a fighting chance.”

“The board takes absolutely no pleasure in closing down Waukegan and feels they did absolutely everything within their power to save Waukegan,” Katz said. “The board made decisions based on information they have and what they feel is their legal obligation. If there’s another resolution, I would encourage the community to act on it.”

Hall said Waukegan Y members could go to court and ask a judge to give them more time. Another member pushed the idea, saying a judge might grant an injunction against closure.

Katz admitted that mortgage holder Royal Bank of Scotland has not moved to foreclose on Y property, has filed no lawsuit or any other legal action to force a shutdown.

“They certainly have communicated to the board for some time that they haven’t been OK with the continued financial performance of the YMCA and that the debt owed to the bank is in default,” Katz said.

A local Catholic school has expressed interest in the Y building, Katz said. The Y has also submitted a proposal to the Waukegan school district to continue the Y’s before-and-after-school programs.

Waukegan Y members, led by Hall, Waukegan Township Supervisor Patricia Jones and Waukegan City Treasurer John Schwab and other community leaders will continue to meet in an attempt to save the Y. The next meeting will be held at 10 a.m. Jan. 4 at Waukegan Township Park Place.

Member Mildred Leonard said she will continue to send fund-raising letters to philanthropists and other groups. She said she’s worried that she’s seeing a trend.

“YMCAs are staying open in affluent suburbs,” Leonard said. “They’re closing in poorer communities, where they’re needed most.”

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