Facing financial difficulties, the YWCA in Portland closed in 2006, despite a tremendous 11th-hour effort by members to raise money to keep it open.

What had been a community resource on Spring Street is now a parking lot.

That cannot happen to the YWCA facility on Lewiston’s East Avenue.

The YWCA of Central Maine’s board of directors announced Thursday that the facility will close.

The YWCA is, according to the board, the oldest and largest multicultural women’s organization in the world. It offers support and services to empower women through career counseling, job training, affordable child care services, and fitness opportunities. The organization’s mission is to “build strong women leaders” and advocate for women’s rights.

But the local YW is so much more.

The facility’s pool is used by three high school teams to train and compete. Amateur athletes train for aquatic events, people of all ages regularly swim for fitness, children celebrate birthdays with pool parties, there are weekly therapy swim times, and thousands of local children have learned to swim in the regulation–sized lanes.

Lifeguards have trained in that pool, and child care providers have qualified for state-mandated basic water rescue skills.

YW directors, who have been struggling to repair a dismal financial picture for years, opted to keep quiet about the situation, worried that any signal of trouble would erode membership. That was a mistake.

Silence is no solution.

We need action.

The last swim was Friday, and child care services will stop Sept. 3.

Can that really be the end?

Or can this community summon support that Portland could not, and preserve this 130-year-old institution?

The YW abuts Lewiston High School. Perhaps the School Department might consider annexing the facility to make it a home pool. Or, perhaps the school departments that use the pool could collaborate and create a swim center.

The cities of Auburn and Lewiston have access to a tremendous amount of Community Development Block Grant funding that could be funneled there to create a Twin Cities community center, which both cities have long acknowledged is needed.

Or, perhaps our congressional delegation, which has brought home stimulus money for projects far less worthy, could lend a hand, because saving jobs is the mission of stimulus spending.

The cost to spare the YW and then continue to maintain it, are high, including satisfying a $560,000 mortgage and paying the steep and ongoing costs to heat the building and pool.

It would not be easy to raise money to pay off the mortgage, but it could be done. This community has a history of generosity when it comes to expanding public libraries and other public spaces.

Heating the pool could be done, perhaps at less cost, with a little creativity and by tapping into grants and other resources to install solar panels and other greener energy sources.

But, what may be the best and most immediate solution is for the Auburn-Lewiston YMCA to take over, or blend with, the YW.

The YMCA is publicly hunting for space to build a new campus, but it would be incredibly shortsighted not to consider the existing YW space. The building is relatively new with adequate indoor fitness and office space, the pool is in terrific shape, there is plenty of parking and some room to expand.

In announcing the YW closure, Board President Lee Young called the situation “a sad thing.”

It is. But it doesn’t have to be immobilizing.

There’s an opportunity here, now that this community knows what’s going on, to save this space.


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