By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Atmore Area YMCA was reportedly just hours away from closure when a $50,000 check arrived from Poarch Band of Creek Indians and prevented a seemingly imminent lockdown of the historic building that serves as the Y’s headquarters and programs facility.
Paul Chason, the Y’s chief executive officer, said he was preparing to deliver termination notices to the facility’s staff when the financial help arrived late last week. The organization had barely enough money on hand to meet its June 1 payroll obligations, he said.
“Receipt of the PCI donation the morning of Friday, May 18, prevented me from notifying the public and handing out employee termination notices after lunch on Friday, May 18,” Chason said. “The PCI donation prevented distribution of employee two-week termination notices with an effective date of June 1.”
Robert Heard, who chairs the Y’s board of directors as chief volunteer officer, agreed that the situation had gotten bleak. He said the organization was scraping the bottom of its financial barrel and was preparing for a possible closure when the cash infusion arrived.
“I would say that the PCI donation was critical to the YMCA staying in operation beyond June 1,” Heard said. “Our reserve funds would have been depleted with the payroll on that date.”
Chason concurred that “bleak” is probably a kinder word than others that could have been used to describe the impending fiscal failure.
“We were wondering if we could make payroll on June 1,” the CEO said. “There would have been remaining debt after payroll, but our projections indicated that not all (of those debts) could be paid.”
He said a steady decline in membership and unexpected repairs that sprang up recently have strained the Y’s limited funds and wrecked its budget.
“Declining membership has contributed to reduced revenue and less cash on hand,” Chason explained. “Coupled with unexpected, unfunded failures that had to be repaired, our minimal cash reserves were on the verge of depletion two months before projections.”
Heard agreed that the drop in membership numbers was part of the problem, but pointed out that it wasn’t the only stumbling block to maintaining a stronger financial position.
“I think that membership is one aspect of the financial situation,” he said. “Another is the size and maintenance issues associated with the current building — old windows, etc. Also, the unexpected and unfunded repairs to critical building infrastructure played a role. It was multifaceted; there was not just one issue that led to the crisis.”
Chason said the Y’s Pensacola Avenue building, which was given to the organization by Atmore Lions Club several years ago, has become a virtual money pit in which less than half the floor space can be utilized. According to a marker erected by the Escambia County Historical Society in 2011, the venerable facility served as Escambia County High School from 1909-1960.
“Within the facility, (we) routinely use approximately 13,000 square feet of our building, which is just under 31,000 total square feet,” he said. “We have large areas that are completely unusable and are beyond our capabilities to repair, but we still have to heat and cool most of those areas. Our occupancy cost averages $42,000 per year, or almost half of what is contributed to our YMCA. We must find a solution to reduce costs.”
Neither Heard nor Chason were specific on possible remedies being considered by the Y’s board, but they agreed that something had to change.
“Operating status quo fails to solve our recurring fiscal challenges, so changes are a necessity,” Chason explained, speaking for both YMCA officials. “The board of directors and staff are discussing and investigating several alternatives that, if approved and implemented, ‘may’ increase our chances for long-term sustainability. It is not appropriate for me to provide any further discussion on this issue at this time.”