Hoping to relieve the organization’s $5 million debt, the Metro Board of the YMCA of South Alabama began a strategic planning process to develop smaller “healthy living center” models for three of its five branches. The plan hit a snag when members of the Moorer YMCA filed a lawsuit against the Metro Board regional management arguing that the plan should be put to a member vote.

A 20,000-square-foot healthy living center has been proposed to replace the current 36,000-square-foot Monte L. and Louise R. Moorer YMCA in downtown Mobile, AL. The relocated Moorer YMCA branch will feature an increased focus on health and fitness, including a new personal training studio and more group exercise rooms. The new facility will not include the parking garage, swimming pool, gym or racquetball courts that the previous facility had. However, four of the other branches offer these amenities, and members of the Moorer Y can use those facilities.

“The healthy living model is a smaller, more efficient branch,” says Mark Hanke, CEO of the YMCA of South Alabama. “When we look at the members, they were saying we want nice locker rooms, we want group exercise space and our commitment to health and fitness. This new healthy living center really gives the members in downtown Mobile what they want.”

However, the member lawsuit may affect the future of those plans. Mobile lawyer and Moorer YMCA member Jonathon Friedlander, who represents the Moorer members in the lawsuit, argues that the Metro Board members began executing the plan without following bylaws or consulting the Moorer board or the branch’s membership.

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“We feel like the Metro board didn’t follow the proper procedures in the bylaws or state law in orchestrating this move,” Friedlander says.

In response to the lawsuit, the board plans to hold new elections, and after the board has been reconstituted, the strategic plan would be subject to a vote before moving forward. However, Hanke says that when you look at an organization the size of The YMCA of South Alabama, which has five branches and a regional board, the branch’s advisory board is only an advisory role and does not have a vote in matters.

“With 1,500 [membership] units at the [Moorer] branch, it represents less than 15 percent of our [overall] membership, and so whenever a board and staff goes through a strategic planning process, we always kept [all the branches] in mind and really focused on sustainability and survivability,” Hanke says.

The Y not only struggled for decades with high debt obligations but also worked without operational or maintenance reserves that would allow a margin for facility or equipment breakdowns, Hanke says. Combined with a decline in membership, a lack of structure with the branch advisory boards and the metro board, and an aging building, the Moorer YMCA needed help, he says.

“Our Y has struggled with debt for decades, and [the strategic plan] is a plan to get out from under the debt and get back to more cause-driven programs,” Hanke says. “We think that if we can get out from the pressures of the debt, we can serve even more of our kids and families.”