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Waukegan Y closing on hold until year’s end

Waukegan 10/31/12
Joan Mullejans stands nearby as PDrasler hugs their water aerobics instructor Kim Erdal shortly after presenting her with going

Waukegan 10/31/12 Joan Mullejans stands nearby as Pat Drasler hugs their water aerobics instructor Kim Erdal, shortly after presenting her with a going away gift after class at the Northern Lake YMCA. Due to the unsure future of the center, the class participants had thought this might be their last class. | Michelle LaVigne ~ Sun-Times Media

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‘Save Our Y’

A meeting will be held at 10 a.m. Friday, Nov. 2, at Park Place senior center, 414 S. Lewis Ave., Waukegan. Donations to the nonprofit Y are still being accepted through its Web site: www.ymcalakecounty.org or checks may be dropped off at the Waukegan Y, 2000 Western Ave.

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Updated: December 31, 2012 5:43PM



WAUKEGAN — The 100-year-old Waukegan YMCA, which had been slated for closure Oct. 31, will stay open through 2012 in the hopes that supporters and employees can come up with a plan to guarantee financial solvency.

Women in the Y’s water aerobics class on Wednesday met the news with cautious optimism.

“I’m hopeful that it will continue because it’s a big part of people’s lives,” said Jeanne Houle, 75, who has been a member since retiring in 2002.

Houle, a small witch’s hat perched jauntily on her head, and about 30 other women, many bedecked in Halloween doodads, met for a potluck in the Y’s gym after the class. Until they dipped their toes into the coolish water of their favorite pool, the aquacizers did not know whether the day would bring a goodbye or a hold-on.

Shirley McGrain of Waukegan, a retired nurse who is also 75, said she would take the next two months “one day at a time.”

“I’ve been praying,” said McGrain, who let slip that she wrote a “big” check for the cause.

The Lake County Family YMCA, which also operates a branch in Vernon Hills where a sale of that 11-year-old facility to the village is in the works, began a fund-raising campaign after its abrupt closure announcement on Sept. 28 provoked an outcry from members in both communities.

The effort has raised nearly $44,000 to date. The not-for-profit initially said that if it failed to raise between $5 million and $8 million, the amount needed to pay-off debt and put it on the road to solvency, the doors would close.

“What got us the reprieve was the support Waukegan and the community showed,” said interim CEO Hal Katz. “The board realized how committed and energized the community is. The focus now is to come up with a sustainable business model going forward.”

Katz said the proceeds from the Vernon Hills facility will “all go to the bank.” Donations by Vernon Hills Y supporters, about half of the amount collected, will be returned. Until the Vernon Hills Park District takes over operation on Jan. 1, members will continue to pay dues to the Y. Operation costs for the next two months will be absorbed by the Y, said Katz, who declined to give the sale price, but said it was “safe to assume” that it is more than the $1,4 million initially offered and turned-down.

In a statement issued Wednesday, Y Board Chair Diane Fleming warned that “Due to the complex nature of our financial situation, this extension is being made pending any unforeseen developments.”

The Y also credited support from community leaders, including former member Waukegan Mayor Robert Sabonjian and Waukegan Township Supervisor Patricia Jones, a longtime member along with three other generations of her family. Jones walked into the Waukegan Y at 2000 Western Ave., on Wednesday carrying posters urging “Vernon Hills saved theirs, we must save ours.”

“Our community has no surplus like they do in Vernon Hills,” Jones said, adding that she is lobbying Waukegan aldermen, some who learned to swim at the Y, for “moral support that could lead to more pledges.”

“We want to keep the Y and we can do it,” Jones said. “When Waukeganites come together committed and focused, we can do anything.”

The two Ys employ a combined 132 people and before the closure announcement, served an estimated 7.000 members.



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