Nova Scotia

Town of Yarmouth to purchase former YMCA site

Council unanimously passed a motion to buy the former YMCA site during a meeting on Thursday. The Y shut down last month in the face of insurmountable financial challenges, which were exacerbated by the COVID-19 shutdown.

162-year-old landmark shut down permanently last month due to financial struggles

Yarmouth town council voted unanimously on Thursday to purchase the former YMCA site. (Submitted by David Gorman)

The Town of Yarmouth intends to buy the former YMCA site in hopes of preserving the facility for the community.

Council unanimously passed a motion during a meeting on Thursday to enter into a purchase of sale agreement. Terms were not immediately available. The move follows a decision by the Y's board last month to close the site in the face of insurmountable financial challenges, which were exacerbated by the COVID-19 shutdown.

Although the YMCA is home to the community's swimming pool and a fitness centre, Mayor Pam Mood said there are many other attributes about the site that make it too important for Yarmouth County to lose.

"It's the overall picture of community spirit, that hub where people gather, where it's a safe place for our youth," she said in a telephone interview.

"We'd rather take this step than even think about that disappearing."

Main Street has been home to the YMCA for 162 years, but the building itself is from the 1980s.

Plenty of work ahead

The purchase does not mean the doors will automatically reopen. Mood said there remain unknowns related to COVID-19 and the building needs several significant upgrades — including a new roof, repairs to brickwork and work on the interior — before it can be used again.

Necessary initial repairs are estimated to cost about $1.5 million, while the building would need subsequent work costing about $5.3 million in the next 10 years to remain viable.

"It's not going to be a quick process," Mood said, estimating it could be as much as a year before the building can be available again to the public.

Last month, Communities, Culture and Heritage Minister Leo Glavine said he's willing to talk about how the province can help the town, along with the Municipality of the District of Yarmouth and Municipality of the District of Argyle, find a way to keep the site operational.

Possible replacement plans

Getting to that point will require the three municipalities to reach an agreement on operations, but Mood said the capital costs also have to be figured out.

"We can take care of operations and make sure the programs run and find the money to do that, but we need to find those capital funds to take care of those bigger infrastructure pieces," she said.

Meanwhile, talks are also resuming among the three municipalities about the long-term future for the site.

A previous attempt to advance a plan for a new aquatics centre, field house and other features, which would have been located at the local hockey arena, failed in part because of the estimated $40-million price tag.

Talks are now focused on a pared-down project that would be highlighted by a new aquatics centre, with a budget in the range of $18 to $20 million.

Community support

John Cunningham, deputy warden of the Municipality of the District of Yarmouth and chair of a new group with representation from the three councils, said the goal is to finalize a plan for the former YMCA site to act as a bridge for the community while also working toward the replacement project.

Cunningham said they're aiming to complete the replacement work in up to five years. He wants community input to factor prominently in the process, something Cunningham said there wasn't enough of in the previous proposal.

"There was quite a bit of pushback at the time about that, that [the public] wanted to be involved," said Cunningham. "Well, since I'm the chair, I'm going to make sure that that happens."

Mayor Mood said the scope of the project means it could take even longer than five years to complete, which makes it all the more important to get the doors on Main Street back open to the people of Yarmouth County as soon as possible. She said the outcry that followed the announcement the Y was closing made clear to her council that the community wants a solution.

"In this case, as a community hub, as services and value that has been in this community for 162 years, we just feel strongly that we have the community support to go forward with this," she said.

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