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Boro pols forge deal to save Catalpa YMCA

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Activists and politicians won a 14-month reprieve in their fight to save the Catalpa YMCA, securing a deal that will let them find a new tenant to continue running a community center at the site after the YMCA leaves in August 2004.

The agreement came with only 24 days to spare in the countdown to June 30, the date when the YMCA of Greater New York had planned to shut down the center because of recurring fiscal problems and the building's inadequacy.

"We're very happy the YMCA gave us those 14 months," said Chris Landano, a YMCA volunteer and member of the Committee to Save the Catalpa YMCA. "It gives us a chance to work on finding someone who's going to buy the building and keep it a community center."

A couple hundred people gathered outside the Catalpa YMCA on Catalpa Avenue and 64th Street Friday afternoon to celebrate the agreement, which had been brokered the previous day by Borough President Helen Marshall, state Assembywoman Cathy Nolan (D-Ridgewood), City Councilman Dennis Gallagher (R-Middle Village), Nancy Greco-Shearer of the Save the Catalpa YMCA Committee and Paula Gavin, the president of the YMCA of Greater New York.

The deal emerged after community leaders had rejected an earlier proposal in which the YMCA had offered to keep the center open for another year in exchange for half a million dollars in contributions from the community and politicians.

The YMCA eventually agreed to accept only $300,000 in assistance - $150,000 for capital improvements from the borough president, another $50,000 in capital money from Nolan and $100,000 in operating funds to be raised by the community.

But the cornerstone of the deal was the YMCA's commitment to sell the building to an organization that will continue to operate a community center there.

"The Queens borough president will form a committee that ... will find a suitable organization that will step into and take over all of the youth, adult and family programs in the YMCA," said Greco-Shearer, who chairs the Save the Catalpa YMCA Committee. "That to me was a huge step from where we were. Not even four weeks ago, the YMCA was willing to sell the building to the highest bidder."

The community had already secured about $200,000 in pledges from residents and organizations to keep the center open for another two years, and Greco-Shearer anticipates many of those pledges will come through to help the group meet its $100,000 commitment.

The YMCA of Greater New York had announced Catalpa's impending closure in March, a decision the organization blamed on the inadequate layout and condition of the building - which had been built as a courthouse - and a budget that continually ran at a deficit.

Word of the planned closure had unleashed a flood of protest in Ridgewood, where the Catalpa center is considered a vital and unique resource for the community.

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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