Thursday, February 7, 2002

YMCA asks: Is Scarborough a good home?

Published in the Current

It will be months before Scarborough knows if it is a good match for the Y, and if so, years before anything gets built, organizers and Y officials said.

But within two months, Y organizers could be asking town residents for as much as $300,000 to further develop the project.

According to Dave Thompson, executive director of the Greater Portland YMCA, it will be at least six weeks before a study of Scarborough’s feasibility as a host community for a YMCA will be complete, and another six weeks or so before the analysis of that information is completed by the national Yorganization.

If a Y is approved, supporters will be looking for between $250,000 and $300,000 to offer some Y services in town, and to begin planning a capital campaign that could take two years to kick off, and which could last as long as five years.

Two representatives from the national YMCA office were in Scarborough this week conducting interviews with community leaders, including Town Manager Ron Owens and members of the volunteer group that approached the Y to bring a facility to town.

Those being interviewed had been identified by members of the community as people who know the town, and who could potentially help gather support for a Y, if one were to be located here.

The study is examining the fund-raising prospects as well as projecting numbers of annual members. It also looks at the size of the community it would serve – beyond just the town limits of Scarborough – and need for the services a Y could provide, such as child care, elder programs and a pool.

Another key criterion is whether there would be additional contributions available each year, to keep the organization going. “A well-run YMCA typically generates about 20 percent of its income from contributions,” Thompson said.

The survey will be complete in another few weeks, after which the national Y organization will look at the information and issue a report on whether the project should go forward.

Thompson said that aside from saying just “yes” or “no,” the report could include analysis of specific risks, such as the high household turnover in Scarborough.

And then the preparation for a major fund-raising project would begin. “We wouldn’t be ready for a capital campaign for two or three years,” Thompson said. But the momentum is already building, according to Mike Harrison, a representative of the national Y organization who coordinates projects in Maine and New Hampshire.

YMCAs built in Maine tend to cost between the $9 million spent for a new Y in Camden and the smaller $4.5 million building in Bath, Harrison said. Both the Camden and Bath buildings have a small, therapeutic pool and a larger, eight-lane lap pool, he said.

In the meantime, Thompson said, the Cumberland County YMCA could start offering programs in borrowed or rented space, like church basements or school gymnasiums.

When it came to putting up a building, Thompson said, groundwork laid now with the town will prove useful. “There has to be a strong relationship with the town,” he said.

To that end, he and other Y professionals have spoken with Owens and Community Services Director Bruce Gullifer, with positive interaction.

“They’re very receptive to the idea,” Thompson said. “Having them support the idea just makes things work so much better.”

Thompson stressed that the process is designed to be objective and examine the realistic possibilities of success for a Y in Scarborough. “We want to take this very seriously, but not let emotions get carried away here,” he said.