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Huntington YMCA members oppose proposed gym, pool facilities

Posted by Johanna Kaiser  February 16, 2012 02:15 PM

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Opponents of the Huntington Ave. YMCA’s plans to demolish and rebuild its gym and pool as part of a project to erect a Northeastern University dormitory expressed ongoing distrust and frustration with the proposal at a contentious public meeting Wednesday.

“This will only hurt members rather than help them,” Andre Jones, a Y member, said at a meeting to discuss the demolition of the facility’s pool and squash courts and a portion of Bates Hall.

Under the plan the pool and courts would be rebuilt to update the facilities and accommodate the loss of the gym building, which the Y is selling to Phoenix Property Co. The company plans to build a $75 million, 17-story dormitory for Northeastern in its place.

The Y hopes to build modern basketball and handball courts, and lap and therapy pools in the new addition. It would also move the weight room and exercise equipment to the second floor of the main building while the corporate offices housed there now would be moved to the top floor of the new addition along with other renovations.

Many of the Y’s members, residents, and neighbors, who have long opposed the dorm, are now fighting against the new facilities that they say are misguided and do not benefit the members of the urban facility.

“The Y doesn’t think there’s a community in these walls; we know there’s a community in these walls,” said Jones, who like many others at the meeting felt members were not given enough say in the changes made by the YMCA board of directors.

Several meetings about the changes were held and a survey of members priorities were administered before the plan was unveiled.

Y officials said updated recreation facilities and programs are part of a larger effort to bring the 100-year-old building into the 21st century and make the YMCA of Greater Boston more accessible and family friendly.

“You’re not in Needham. ... It’s a drastic mistake,” Jones said, criticizing the decision. Many said the changes would benefit a more suburban, family-centric and less diverse clientele, such as a separate therapy pool for families to use and family locker rooms.

There were practical concerns, too.

The indoor running track would not be replaced and the basketball court, like the current court, would be smaller than the NCAA standard. Others were concerned about the quality of life of Y residents during construction and the number of people who will cancel their memberships while the work was going on. Northeastern has agreed to give Y members access to its Marino Center.

Wendy Zinn, executive director of the YMCA of Greater Boston said the building now is “old, inefficient, and really expensive to operate,” and the changes would allow the Y to use its resources on programming and services instead of maintenance and renovation.

Bill Shaevel, the Y’s attorney for the project, stressed that this project was separate from the GrandMarc dorm, which has already been approved by the city’s redevelopment authority, but noted the demolition and subsequent rebuilding of the courts would not happen if the sale of the gym did not go through.

Opponents have said the Y should have focused on fund-raising to renovate the building instead of selling and demolishing parts.

Shaevel encouraged members to support the addition even if they oppose the dorm, reasoning that if the Northeastern dorm is built, this plan gives members the facilities they lost.

“If that’s a reality, and you’ve got nothing else, and that’s life, then sign off on this,” Shaevel, said.

Still, opponents, who have collected 1,100 signatures from the facility’s 2,700 opposing the dorm and have filed a suit against the building based on zoning issues, saw the project as an afterthought to Northeastern’s plan.

Although the dorm received support from the city as an attempt to keep students from moving off campus into surrounding neighborhoods, Steven Gallanter, a Fenway resident, saw the dorm as a part of a continued encroachment of colleges into neighborhoods as the city allows them to expand.

“It’s patricide. It’s killing your father because he wouldn’t give you a bigger allowance,” Gallanter said after the meeting, referring to the school’s founding in 1898 as a night school at the Y.

The Y must now file its plans with the Boston Landmarks Commission, which will determine if the pool building is historically significant or can be demolished.
Twitter: @YTFenwayKenmore

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