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‘Y’ Community Conversation – The Future of the Paul Henson ‘Y’ in Prairie Village

Posted by Bonnie Limbird

You may notice here and in other places that I rarely, if ever, refer to the ‘Y’ as YMCA. The organization rebranded as the ‘Y’ several years back as a sign of the times – they’re no longer only open for men, and their affiliation with religion is invisible as far as I can tell. They don’t preach or proselytize. They just serve everyone with an “access to all” mentality. So I choose to think of them and refer to them as just the ‘Y’.

History

The event kicked off with a recap of the history of the Y in KC. YMCA of Greater KC opened 162 years ago as a safe haven for men coming off farms and into the cities in order to get them off the streets and give them direction. In the 1960s, expansion into the KC suburbs began, including Prairie Village, and health, wellness, and fitness were added to their mission.

The discussion was led by John Mikos and Mark Hulet, and this is their story (dun dun!): 

In 2011, six facilities were highlighted for priority investment, again including Prairie Village. Also included were: Linwood, Atchison, Vivion Rd, Red Bridge, downtown KCMO, and downtown KCK. Since that time, Linwood, Atchison, and downtown KCMO have been renovated; Vivion Road was acclimated to (I didn’t catch the details of this – I think they recalibrated their services there or right-sized for the space); and (I heard elsewhere that) Red Bridge was closed. The costs for the renovations listed above were investments made by the local communities based on donor partner choice and where the funds were raised. 

Back to 2011: after Paul Henson was identified as a center for priority investment, the City of Prairie Village began discussions with the Y. 

In 2013 a city partnership was still being discussed, similar to those in Bonner Springs and Platte County, but after a feasibility study, the cost was determined to be too high, and the idea was shelved. My understanding last night was that the Y wasn’t part of the feasibility study, but I will follow up on that.

In 2016 an SMSD and Y partnership was discussed (no City involvement) for their district aquatics center, but as most of us know, SMSD chose Lenexa for that facility.

In 2019 the Y reached out to the City and former City Councilwoman, Sheila Myers, about re-looking at the idea of a partnership between the Y and Prairie Village. Around that time, I also suggested to the mayor reaching out to the library because I knew from past volunteering with the JoCo Library that the Corinth branch was slated for replacement in the coming years. So by the end of 2019, the Y, the City of PV, AND the JoCo Library had entered into a 3-way Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to administer and pay for a market demand study. At that time, the Y had presented favorable membership numbers that could feasibly sustain operating costs for a new facility. The market demand study was then completed with statistically validated results pointing to a very positive outlook of residents supporting this partnership and a new facility. 80% of respondents reported that they would “likely” or “definitely”  use a new facility, and over 75% said they’d be willing to help pay for the facility through membership and construction (and the levels they were willing to pay per month varied). In 2022, “COVID-19” enters the global lexicon, and the whole project is put on hold for the health and safety of our ENTIRE world.

Welcome to 2022, COVID is still being felt by almost every single person every single day, membership for the Paul Henson Y has struggled to recover to their pre-pandemic numbers (which were needed to sustain daily operation post-construction), and the facility itself has continued to deteriorate for another two plus years. 

Y Programs

At this point in the conversation attendees got an overview of the programs the Y provides, some of which are actually provided at our Paul Henson location (many are not because the space doesn’t allow it). The Y has three focus areas that set them apart from for-profit organizations (this is not an exhaustive list):

  1. Healthy Living
    1. chronic disease prevention
    2. Blood pressure monitoring programs
    3. Diabetes prevention
    4. Cancer survivorship program
    5. Active older adults (the Y called over 18,000 seniors to check on them the first year of covid)
    6. KU Alzheimer’s Research program
    7. Health, wellbeing, and fitness
    8. Virtual ymca360
  2. Youth Development
    1. Before and after school child care, supporting working families 6am-6pm
    2. Learning loss prevention
    3. Adaptive sports (differently abled, special needs), Challenger Program
    4. Youth sports
    5. Bitty sports
    6. Swim lessons & water safety (drowning prevention)
    7. Technology and eSports
  3. Social Responsibility – Inspiring action to make communities better 
    1. “Access for all” – sliding scale for membership fees, scholarships, and payment programs
    2. Nimble to adjust to what the community needs (over 30,000 people were vaccinated at Ys during covid)
    3. Training and job prep
    4. CPR training, lifeguard training
    5. Hunger prevention, community gardens and food boxes
    6. Diversity Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), places and spaces to offer English as a Second Language (ESL), and a welcoming environment

“It’s not just a pool and a bench press machine”

Guest Speakers

We then watched a feel-good video featuring PV residents and Y members, and we heard from Frank Kirk, Y Board of Directors member & Y member, who shared that the $50,000 endowment received previously helped the Y through a lot of rough years, but those weren’t tangible expenditures that a member can see walking through the space.

Then Mayor Mikkelson spoke, and he highlighted Meadowbrook Park as a successful 3-way partnership with public and private organizations that has positively transformed our city and reminded us that the Y would leave a huge void if they were to leave PV. However, ultimately it’s his and the Council’s job to do what’s in the best interest for PV and its residents and taxpayers, so we need to hear from YOU. He stressed that he and Council are dedicated to finding a solution.

To that end, the mayor reconvened the Ad Hoc Civic Center Committee of council members and residents. Our next meeting is Thursday, May 19th from 4-6PM. No binding action is taken in these meetings. We are just learning more and exploring what’s possible. If you think we should continue to explore this vision, please let your councilors know. Email them, come to speak, get to know the committee members.

The State of the Y

Facility, sort of

John Mikos then gave an update on the current state of the Paul Henson Y facility. He stated that he, as CEO, does not have complete authority to decide how funds are allocated. All of the renovation projects above were done with partnerships. That’s the only way they can happen. It’s ultimately not his choice what happens with Paul Henson Y, or any Y; each individual community decides. He vehemently stated that he can’t undo the wrongs of 20 years ago, but he can answer openly and honestly to help move us in the right direction. He said that the Y is committed to helping financially if we decide to move forward with a partnership. 

Anecdotally, I’ve heard of leaking roofs, mold issues, poor condition of carpets, and more. For my own experience in the facility (limited), it just looked “tired”. It’s definitely out-of-date and undesirable to young families.

Finances

Because of COVID-19, they lost 45% of their revenue in 2020, and they were not eligible for federal fund programs because of some logistics he listed that I lost track of. So they had to borrow $2.5M just to keep doors open. The Y does not take operational funds from one location to another location to rebuild or operate. The $50,000 endowment previously mentioned that was received for the naming rights of Paul Henson was not sent to other locations. 

The Y is still only operating at 70% of pre-COVID levels. They are still raising money, and they continue to offer scholarships so they can offer their programs regardless of a member’s ability to pay. But they are currently unable to sustain a $200,000 per month facility operation cost which is what the Paul Henson facility requires because of its age and condition. Additionally, the state of the facility makes it difficult to market new memberships for that location.

“The path forward is for the community to decide what we’d like to do.” Does the community want the Y here in PV? And, if yes, are we willing to lead an effort to develop finding resources and partners to make it feasible?

The Y currently operates four locations in a similar government/Y partnership. In three of those, the facility itself is not owned by the Y at all. They just operate it and manage the facility and programming. The previous iteration of the Ad Hoc Civic Center committee toured those facilities, I believe, and reports back were highly favorable.

Open Discussion

At around 7:00, we finally got to Q&A, but there wasn’t much time for questions. Several were long-winded and duplicative so we weren’t very efficient. If I remember correctly, though, they were mostly good questions, but I wasn’t able to capture them all. At this point, the room of nearly 200 people started to get really chatty, and it was hard to hear. 

Someone pointed out that many Y members don’t actually live in PV proper, and how can Johnson County help. I don’t think the question was truly answered, but unless the County is part of the partnership, the answer is not at all, and to be honest, the County has their own parks and programming division in the JCPRD, so what value would they get out of that partnership if the Y was involved? John Mikos did say that the only sustainable model for this will have to come from more than just PV – communities, community members, and organizations from outside PV. 

Other questions/comments:

  • Will a new facility include mental health services – yes 
  • Will it include updated equipment – yes
  • What is our vision? What can make this Y location a destination? We need to know the vision to sell it to possible partners.
  • How can we get involved (see Mayor’s comments above)
  • One gentleman thanked the Y for convening this meeting, and said that it focuses their members to be ambassadors for this project, and he looks forward to helping.
  • What is the timeline? – We have to find a partner really quickly and then with design and construction it’s at least 2-3 years out.
  • Can the Y maintain operations for those intervening years? – The answer was “I don’t know. We’re willing to stay and operate there as long as the facility allows it.”

A new Y facility was $20-25M minimum a decade ago and will be more now. This won’t be an endeavor that one entity can do alone, so let’s do it together. 

Next steps…

My understanding is that Y leadership is going to bring a proposal to the Ad Hoc Civic Center Committee that, if approved, would still have to go to the full City Council for review and approval. If we can get that before our next Thursday meeting, hopefully we can get it on the agenda. Again that meeting is 4-6PM, Thursday, May 19th.

We also have to identify other fiscal partners, and funding mechanisms that don’t put the onus entirely on PV taxpayers. Additionally, we have to develop the scope of the project. What does a new Y in PV look like and accommodate? What efficiencies in size, operation, sustainability, and maintenance can we incorporate that weren’t possible even 20 years ago, let alone 50+? What services does THIS PV community need and want?

Watch for more information regarding an updated survey. I think we’re leaning toward doing a reboot of that, but it’s not for sure yet.

Conclusion

Even if you’re not a fan of the Y, you may see the need for a Y-like facility, and then the same next steps apply: develop funding resources and partners to make it feasible. I’m open to any and all partners coming to the table to bring win-win scenarios to our residents and their own organizations. I welcome ideas, and I look forward to hearing from YOU. You can email me and Ian both at our council emails: blimbird@pvkansas.com and igraves@pvkansas.com respectively. Can’t wait to hear from you! 😁

Thanks for reading!

🤗

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