Nova Scotia

Provincial government willing to try to help save Yarmouth YMCA

Government officials and community members are trying to find a way to save the Yarmouth YMCA, a fixture of the small town's Main Street for 162 years.

Community trust fund being established in response to outpouring of support

The YMCA has been a fixture on Yarmouth's Main Street for 162 years. (Submitted by David Gorman)

The Nova Scotia government is willing to explore ways to keep the Yarmouth YMCA from permanently closing its doors, while members of the community are taking steps to rally support.

On Wednesday, the board of directors announced that long-standing financial challenges have become insurmountable. The Y, which has been on Main Street for 162 years, needs $1.5 million in upgrades before it can reopen and another $5.3 million in the next 10 years just to keep the building viable.

That, along with difficulty getting all three municipal councils in the area to agree to necessary deficit funding, was already a major challenge. But the final blow came as a result of COVID-19, which forced the site closed in March and is expected to affect membership even if the Y were to reopen.

On Thursday, Communities, Culture and Heritage Minister Leo Glavine said he'd been in touch with officials from the Town of Yarmouth and said his department is "certainly willing to look at what is possible."

Leo Glavine is Nova Scotia's minister of Communities, Culture and Heritage. (CBC)

Glavine said the Y, like many other sport and recreation facilities, has been greatly affected by COVID-19 and his government is working on a response. Within that context, and perhaps more broadly, the minister said he wants to see what can be done to help the Y, particularly if all three municipal councils are willing to enter into talks.

"If that's their wish to explore it fully, my department is certainly prepared to do that," he said in an interview.

"I'm well aware of the presence of the Y in Yarmouth and what it has meant to that community. So if we have a number of partners that are able to look at a viable future, then [my department] is going to be there at the table for those discussions."

Trust fund being established

Meanwhile, Yarmouth Mayor Pam Mood said the town is setting up a trust fund to receive donations for the facility after an outpouring of support. Mood said the town would release details on the fund in the coming days.

"So many people and businesses have reached out that this is a first step as we continue to work on this issue," she said.

"The trust fund will allow people to give and will protect their funds."

Through the years there have been various discussions about expanding and renovating the current YMCA site, as well as more recently moving it as part of an expansion of the community's hockey arena. For a variety of reasons, generally tied to lack of government funding, those initiatives did not proceed.

Mood said she thinks the current situation underscores the urgency to address the long-term needs for the community.

"We need to get this done," she said.

"But we cannot lose the services provided by this facility in the meantime. There has to be a bridge somehow."

Interest in a new aquatics centre

However that bridge is built, Mood said it should involve the help of all three municipal councils in Yarmouth County.

"What we have been saying with regard to every piece of infrastructure is that while these things may land in the town, they are assets for the entire region and municipalities, frankly, need to be paying for the services for the citizens that they represent."

Leland Anthony, warden of the Municipality of the District of Yarmouth, said if the province is prepared to come to the table, he expects his council would be there to talk.

Anthony said his council is less interested in keeping an aging building open than it is in getting a new addition to the local hockey area for an aquatics centre.

"We're more than interested in going forward with that," he said.

Members of that council say they don't want to see the Y close, but that sentiment is outweighed for the majority of councillors by concerns about either the prospective infrastructure costs or the concept of having to fund annual operating deficits.

'A safe place for many youth '

Danny Muise, the warden for the Municipality of the District of Argyle, said his council is "definitely willing" to be part of conversations that could lead to saving the Y.

Meanwhile, members of the community continue to react to news that has taken many of them by surprise.

Jane Cunningham is president of the Yarmouth Y Whitecaps swim team, which trains at the YMCA.

While permanent closure would mean the obvious loss of a place for the team to train, as well as for people to learn to swim, Cunningham said there would be a broader community loss without the Y.

"It's just one of those places where, you know, it's a friendly place, you have lots of members of the community that use it [and] it's a safe place for many youth in the community to go to," she said.

"There really isn't anything else that compares to it in the local area."