Millroy: More Questions Than Answers At YMCA

I’m having more than a little trouble buying the answer interim CEO John Haddock and board member Jake D’Agostini gave to those who attended a public meeting called after it was announced last week that the local YMCA would be ceasing operations on May 15.

“Why wasn’t the community given any advanced warning of the charity’s dire financial circumstances,” Sault Star reporter Kyle Darbyson said was a recurring question from an emotional crowd.

The answer:
The two said they couldn’t disclose the ongoing challenges (including increased operational costs, inflation and a slow return to pre-COVID participation rates) due to “legal matters,” although they said they desperately wanted to go public much earlier.

Darbyson said the answer didn’t satisfy many members.

It didn’t satisfy me or anyone else I have spoken with about the closure either.
It cried out for further explanation.

What kind of “legal matters” would prevent an operation like the YMCA, indeed any kind of operation, from going public in an effort to save itself from extinction.

The YMCA didn’t get into this hole overnight. It has obviously been digging it for some time.
Haddock said the costs associated with temporarily pulling the YMCA out of the hole are very steep, with about $3 million being needed as an immediate “Band Aid” solution If it had come to the community before it got in so deep, there would have been a good chance that it would have, with so many of its citizens having made use of the facility at one time or another, rallied in support.

I don’t believe for a minute that anything legal stood in the way of the CEO and board making that move.
I think they just blew it, although I admit I find it hard to believe that an entire board would just sit silently while the ship they were there to guide to safe waters was going under.

Since the legal shackles are obviously off, I also think the board should have given those at the meeting more of a look into where the Y really stands in regard to finances.

What were the monthly and yearly losses? What were the losing areas of the operation? Could the losers have been shed and kept the rest? Or was the whole thing now a disaster that couldn’t be fixed?

Apparently membership was down considerably because of COVID, dropping to 2,800 from a high of 7,000. Was anything done to try to get these members back in the fold?  

The Y, operational in the city since 1900, has been at its present location since 1965. The list price for the 86,000-square-foot structure, which sits on a 3.5-acre lot, is $2,999,000.

That would cover only the $3 million Haddock suggested would be just a “Band-Aid” solution.
But Haddock made it clear, a temporary solution was not the preferred route.

“Our future isn’t here,” he told the gathering, suggesting a new location would be required if the YMCA is expected to stay in this community in the long term.

“The axe hasn’t dropped,” D’Agostino said. “This is kind of the 11th hour. But the information is out there and we’ll have to just wait and see. We will explore every possible option.”

Kind of the 11th hour? I would say it is closer to 12, the date having already been set for closure.

It wouldn’t appear that even an “angel investor” coming forward would pull the Y out of this mess.
With the building set to close on May 15 and the Y’s future not there anyway, it is obvious that it will be closed for some time even if another building is found and rehabilitated. And is there enough money to cover such a venture?

“It would have been really nice if we had had an opportunity to hear ‘guess what, you’re going to lose your Y unless we get some stuff going,’” member Mark Jenkins said.

“If we do have a chance, why didn’t we hear about this six months ago, so we could have all gotten together and started a funding campaign?”


The worst part of the word about closing coming so late is probably the effect it has on some parents who have children in the daycare operated by the Y, 500 in total and 140 at its facility.

Although the release announcing the closure said an attempt would be made to transfer children to another childcare site with available spaces, the transition was expected to happen over several weeks.
This could leave some parents who both work scrambling for babysitting in the interim, if there is indeed to be an interim as spaces are found for the children.

The Y in the Sault is not the only one to have found itself in financial difficulty that brought about closure.
In October of last year the YMCA community and recreational centre in East London made the decision to close due to financial challenges from declining membership that was made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2021 YMCA Niagara had announced it was closing its doors for similar reasons.

In 2019 the YMCA of Eastern Ontario announced it would be closing its YMCA West location in Kingston because membership was dropping by 20 percent year over year.

This, of course, is of little solace to those in Sault Ste. Marie who are about to lose their connection with the facility here.

Personally I can only shake my head in wonder why someone involved in an official capacity at the Y here didn’t sound an alarm bell when things began to go awry, rather than have it occur at this late date.
Something could have been done back then. It is doubtful it can be now.

3 thoughts on “Millroy: More Questions Than Answers At YMCA

  1. Makes me wonder about the exit of Robert Burns/quick exit of Mary Kloosterman/CFO and other senior leadership throughout 2023.

    We clearly aren’t being given the full picture, there appears to be a deliberate lack of information here from YMCA. I am not sure which is worse, the lack of information or accepting the possibility that senior leadership didn’t sound alarm bells at all, a failure in leadership either way.

  2. Did someone lay a legal charge against the Y?
    Did someone take money that was not theirs during employment at the Y?
    Rumors are floating and to stem the tide of innuendo the Y needs to come clean.

  3. Yes I have to agree with Doug Millroy’s current assessment of the SSM YMCA Financial mess, and I would like to offer my recommendation to the Save the SSM Y Group invite such local successful financial entrepreneurial businessmen like Tim Lukenda CEO Greyhounds and Extendicare, etc. help put together a financial recovery plan as I believe the Y’s current leadership has not demonstrated sufficient financial due diligence in dealing with this matter.

    If not Tim Lukenda then maybe my recommendation may spark other recommendations of other worthy candidates.

    Douglas Leighton, former SSM Commissioner of Economic Development during the 1980’s

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