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Looking for a workout, Y members search for fitness

Mildred Leonard takes her dog Heidi CoTree Walker for walk along Witchwood Lane Waukegan. Leonard is former member YMCA which

Mildred Leonard takes her dog, Heidi, a Coon Tree Walker, for a walk along Witchwood Lane in Waukegan. Leonard is a former member of the YMCA which has since closed and looking for a new place to exercise. | Thomas Delany Jr.~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 3, 2013 6:05AM



Former members of the Waukegan Y, which closed on Dec. 31, 2012, have scattered to the wind, or at least to other places for their swimming, their bench-pressing, their pick-up basketball games and before-and after-school child care.

Local Y members, who numbered about 3,000 before the Y’s board in September abruptly announced its intent to close because of money problems, have turned to LA Fitness, Waukegan Park District’s Hinkston Fieldhouse, Illinois Beach State Lodge, and Zip Fitness to stay in shape.

Mildred Leonard, 66, of Waukegan, has taken a different tack: She adopted an aging coon hound.

“Five times a day, I have to take her for a walk,” said Leonard, who is getting more aerobic bang from Heidi, 8, than she did from her occasional laps at the Y.

Heidi, a muscular, 75-pound hunting dog, a new AKC-approved breed known as “Treeing Walker Coonhound,” does not cut her owner any slack when it comes to their workouts.

“She’ll pick up her leash and throw it at me,” Leonard said.

While Leonard will eventually look for a new pool, she won’t find one that’s as convenient or as affordable as the Y, where she paid $34 per month.

Some swimmers are holding out hope that the Waukegan Park District will construct a new pool at its fieldhouse, where former Y members created long lines in January.

But Greg Petry, parks director, said several plans for an indoor pool at Hinkston and indoor/outdoor concepts for its facility at Lewis Avenue and Belvidere Road are on firm hold.

“The economy needs to turn around,” Petry said. “Equalized assessed valuation continues to drop. Until that levels off, we’re not in a position to undertake another major project.”

The park district will retire some bonds in 2014. If EAVs level-off and grow, Petry said, and if grant opportunities are again offered by the state, conditions may be ripe for new construction. But serious swimmers are looking at four years until any hoped-for groundbreaking.

Leonard wants to see the Y made a campaign issue in the upcoming Waukegan mayoral election.

“It’s an important issue,” Leonard said. “There’s a bad feeling about how the whole thing was handled. A lot of minority children, elderly and disabled people relied on that pool. Driving to Kenosha or Lake Villa (other Y locations) is not an option for them. The Y was a community of people who cared about each other. You don’t get that at a regular health club.”

Meanwhile, at least one person is still enjoying the pool at the Northern Lake YMCA, 2000 Western Ave., on Waukegan’s North Side. Trustee Mike Baratta, who is working out of the facility, poring through financial records in an attempt to liquidate the 100-year-old Y’s assets, said the pool is still full of water.

But no, he’s not diving-in on his lunch hour. Baratta said he hopes to see the building, which he described as clean and well-cared for, re-open, and said there are “several interested” parties.

Longtime former Waukegan Y member and Waukegan Township Supervisor Patricia Jones, who was a driving force behind a three-month-long Save the Y effort, said she hasn’t given up, despite a disbanding of weekly meetings for supporters.

“I still believe there’s a synergy out there and where there’s a will, there’s a way,” said Jones, who is now exercising at Hinkston.

Forums on the fate of the Waukegan Y will be held quarterly beginning in March or April.

“If a buyer emerges, we want to approach them to see if they might offer room to maintain some programs and, hopefully, offer use of the pool,” Jones said.



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