AUBURN — The head of the YMCA of Auburn-Lewiston wants people to know one thing: There has been no final decision about moving into Bates Mill No. 5.

CEO Steve Wallace said he fears published reports this week may have led supporters and YMCA members to believe the nonprofit has firm plans to move into the 100-year-old mill building. While Bates Mill remains on the Y’s list of possible new homes, Wallace said, YMCA leaders are considering all options.

“We’re still doing our due diligence. It’s not fair to say it’s on pause, but it’s also not fair to say that we’ve made a decision,” he said. “At the end of the day, Steve Wallace doesn’t make that decision as chief executive, my board of directors makes it as the 22 people that have been charged with the stewardship of the YMCA.

“My job is to get them the best information, and I’m not anywhere near the point where I can recommend to them that Bates Mill No. 5 is where we should be.”

An aerial photo, taken in 2017, of Bates Mill No. 5 in Lewiston. Russ Dillingham file photo/Sun Journal

The YMCA began seriously considering Bates Mill. No. 5 about four years ago. At the time, Central Maine Medical Center had planned to take a chunk of the mill’s space for its sports medicine, outpatient physical and occupational therapy, and weight management programs. The YMCA planned to move in as well and become a CMMC partner, with a rehabilitation and health and wellness focus that would have, for example, had CMMC hip replacement patients using the YMCA’s exercise facilities to aid in their recovery.

But Central Maine Healthcare, which owns CMMC, pulled out of the Bates Mill No. 5 project in 2017, citing its own financial difficulties and “uncertainty” in the health care industry.

That has left the YMCA two years later with no firm partner and a number of unknowns in a building that is still in the development stage.

“Final price, space, where everybody fits out in that building. Those are all things that we’re talking about,” he said.

The YMCA is still considering a Bates Mill move, Wallace said, but nothing has been set and leaders are looking at other locations. They are also considering new partnerships, which could factor into where the Y ultimately goes.

“We’ve been looking for other hospital partnerships potentially for other places,” Wallace said.

Wallace declined to name which locations the YMCA is considering because other businesses could be affected.

One option the YMCA is not considering: staying put on Turner Street.

“Our current situation isn’t feasible,” Wallace said. “Our old space is just tired for what we need it to be. And with no pool? It stops us from being in a mission area that’s very critical.

“There’s not a week that I don’t go and think about the drownings (the community) had a couple of years ago … for the YMCA not to be in the aquatics space is just harmful.”

The YMCA lost its 96-year-old pool two years ago to flood damage.

To help with that mission, the YMCA continues to move forward with its 10-year, $4.6 million plan for its Outdoor Learning and Education Center at 151 Stetson Road, which already has sports fields, basketball courts and hiking trails and is getting an outdoor pool for needed swimming lessons. Plans call for a 5,000-square-foot building with a kitchen and community space in the future.

Wallace emphasized that the YMCA’s next major move — whether to Bates Mill No. 5 or elsewhere — will also largely depend on community support. As a nonprofit, it relies on fundraising, and Y members, supporters and potential donors will have to be happy with the plan. When it is finalized.

“We’ve got to be able to fundraise and build a YMCA debt free to make it work, because we don’t make $200,000 and $300,000, $400,000 a year profit. It’s not there,” Wallace said.

“So all those things need to be in mind, because if we make a mistake, we just killed a 151-year-old organization. And that’s not going to happen.”


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