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Lakewood Y may be saved

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Once destined for the wrecking ball, the Lakewood YMCA in Durham could be spared. At a packed Sept. 20 community meeting, Triangle YMCA CEO Doug McMillan announced the chances of it remaining open are "99.5 percent."

"We are using the word 'repurpose,' which is the same as save," McMillan said.

In May, Durham YMCA officials announced that the Lakewood Y, which has served as a cornerstone of its inner-city neighborhood for 40 years, would likely close because of several factors: The building needs as much as $5 million in renovations, membership is flat or declining, and it is within two miles of two newer YMCA facilities downtown. (See "Lakewood Y facing uncertain future.")

However, an ad hoc group of Lakewood neighbors and YMCA members, the Committee to Save the Lakewood Y, convinced the YMCA's Durham Advisory Board to give the center a summer-long reprieve.

"It's not the building. It's not the programming. It's community, the thing you can't describe," said Chuck Clifton, chairman of the Committee to Save the Lakewood Y board.

Throughout the summer, the committee has researched Lakewood's finances, marketing and programming. While the committee largely agreed with the Triangle YMCA's financial conclusions, it also determined Lakewood's predicament is largely the result of years of benign neglect by the Raleigh-based Triangle YMCA leadership.

As the Triangle YMCA has focused on the downtown and American Tobacco branches, it has cut Lakewood's classes; conducted little, if any, marketing or outreach; and made few building repairs.

Several reports on philanthropy, demographics and community needs are due to YMCA leadership and subcommittees over the next few weeks. A task force will make a recommendation to the Durham Advisory Board, which, in turn, will pass its recommendations to the Triangle board, which has the final vote on Lakewood's fate.

Clifton said the key to saving Lakewood is differentiating it from other Durham branches. Unlike downtown and American Tobacco, Lakewood has outdoor facilities, such as soccer fields, which could accommodate Latino soccer leagues, for example.

YMCA leadership could lease part of the building, as it once did to Kestrel Heights School, or turn it into a community center that offers computer classes as well as fitness and senior programs.

It remains to be seen if the corporate leadership will make good on its promises, considering the YMCA's lack of transparency—officials have been ambiguous about the financial health of its downtown branches and the May meeting was open to members only, its purpose not disclosed until media accounts did so.

If efforts to save the Y fail, the committee recommended that the YMCA raze the building and sell the land to the city for use as a public park. Committee members and neighborhood residents fear that if the Y were to sell the land to a developer, the tract would be used for multi-family housing, which dominates the neighborhood.

"If you take recreational space and put housing on it, then people have nowhere to go," Clifton said.

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