Since its doors closed amid the recession in 2009, the absence of the Montgomery Street YMCA has left a gaping void in the Poughkeepsie community. The recreation center had served 2,000 people by the time of its closure, with recreational amenities as well as a location to foster community. After nearly 12 years of vacancy, legislators are optimistic that the center will be revitalized at long last. Plans to construct the newly named Youth Opportunity Center are underway even as questions about funding persist.
The construction project will cost an estimated $40 to $45 million according to Dutchess County Legislator and Vassar College Professor Rebecca Edwards. Professor Edwards represents the town of Poughkeepsie. Dutchess County and the city of Poughkeepsie recently struck a deal to partially fund the Youth Opportunity Center. Under local finance law, the property must be an asset of Dutchess County in order to use an expected $25 million in municipal bonds to finance the project. Poughkeepsie Mayor Rob Rolison and Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro announced on Feb. 24 that ownership of the property would be transferred from the City to the County through a transaction of $10. Rolison and Molinaro are seeking approval for this transaction from the City of Poughkeepsie Common Council and Dutchess County legislature. An emergency Common Council meeting was held on March 3 to gather community input about this decision.
While the $25 million in funding provided by the County is a huge step in moving forward with the project, some residents of Poughkeepsie feel uneasy about transferring the asset to Dutchess County. A post on the End the New Jim Crow Action Network (ENJAN) Instagram account urged residents to email their councilmembers and reject the decision to fund the project as an asset of Dutchess County. The post reads, “The YMCA must be City-owned and community run. This is how we revitalize the community, we take ownership and we get involved, TOGETHER!” While the post is still up, a second post clarified that ENJAN does not have an official stance on the project right now and the original post reflected the sentiment of an individual.
Legislators emphasized that the need for the Youth Opportunity Center in the community supersedes the issue of who owns the property. “Though I understand the feeling the people of the City have, having a youth center goes beyond who owns it,” commented Dutchess County Legislator Giancarlo Llaverias, who represents the town of Poughkeepsie. “This is about our kids having a place to go to get off the streets…I am less worried about the politics of who owns the building and more concerned about how we get this built,” he added.
Edwards concurred, explaining that from her perspective, community members have more questions about funding than the issue of ownership. Assuming financial questions are addressed, the project will likely move forward. “I don’t see any reason why the Common Council and the legislature shouldn’t pass it. We’re all excited about it,” Edwards explained. “Poughkeepsie has been wounded since the [former] YMCA closed.”
The City of Poughkeepsie gained ownership of the property, located four blocks from Main Street, in an anti-blight initiative in February 2019. The Youth Opportunity Center was originally dubbed the Eastman Campus in a promising development proposal put forth by the 35 Montgomery Community Coalition in October 2019 during the city’s Request for Expressions of Interest. Designed by architecture firm MASS Design Group, the 35 Montgomery Community Coalition envisions a sprawling campus with amenities including a fitness center and gymnasium, a 24-hour daycare center and an outdoor garden and greenhouse.
The community coalition model allows for the Youth Opportunity Center to be operated and funded by multiple organizations that provide an array of resources. The 35 Montgomery Community Coalition consists of local leaders in healthcare and education that will be involved in the day-to-day operations of the space to different degrees. Members include the YMCA of Ulster and Kingston, which intends to develop a Dutchess YMCA in the building. This will include an Olympic-sized pool, gymnasium and mental health resources. DAY ONE, a Poughkeepsie-based nonprofit, has pledged to open a 24-Hour Child Development Center as well as operate its apprentice teacher training program at the location.
Other members of the Coalition include Dutchess County, Vassar College, the Poughkeepsie Farm Project, Nuvance Health and Community Matters 2, a nonprofit that has developed youth programs in Poughkeepsie. Members with a physical presence in the new space would contribute to the financial responsibility of operating costs.
The current building has been deemed unsafe by the City’s inspectors due to asbestos and structural problems and will need to be demolished to build an entirely new facility. The plan for the first phase of construction will be transforming the land into a community green space on the three-acre property while the architectural designs are finalized. Edwards estimated that the development of the property into the campus designed by MASS Group will take years to complete, with her optimistic estimate being three years from when construction begins.
It is still unclear exactly where the 35 Montgomery Community Coalition will access the other $20 million and how operating costs will be divided between the members. Edwards explained that beyond the County municipal bonds, the Coalition will seek state and federal funding, as well as private foundation money and grants that individual members of the Coalition could apply for. Edwards emphasized that she is less worried about the Coalition’s ability to raise the capital for the price of construction, but is more interested in confirming that the Coalition has a sustainable plan for shared operating costs over decades to come.
While Vassar is a member of the 35 Montgomery Community Coalition, the College’s involvement in the process has been limited thus far. When voicing support for the project in 2019, President Elizabeth Bradley wrote that the College would not be able to help fund the new space. Secretary to the Board of Trustees and Special Assistant to the President’s Office Wesley Dixon shared in a statement for this article that the College will not be taking on an operational role in the project, but pledges encouragement of the current plans. “As part of this coalition, Vassar will serve as a strategic thought-partner to consider how the former YMCA space can be designed and programmed in a way that best meets community needs,” he explained.
Edwards hopes members of the Vassar community will be involved when the center eventually opens. “It’s important for people at Vassar to get outside of the Vassar bubble, especially as we think about post-COVID-19 Poughkeepsie…I think it would be really great for individuals at Vassar to think about what the College’s role might be in that space,” she explained. Students could participate at the Youth Opportunity center through volunteering, using the YMCA facilities, or participating in community engaged learning programs at the campus.
“Community-engaged learning is a great way to get off campus and work with new people,” commented Chloe Kellner ’22, who has done two community-engaged learning experiences, one with the Poughkeepsie Farm Project, a member of the 35 Montgomery Community Coalition. “I think more people should take advantage of the opportunities to learn off-campus, especially when COVID-19 restrictions are lifted,” she added.