LOWER PROVIDENCE — Several hundred members of the Freedom Valley YMCA voted Thursday night on a proposal to merge with the YMCA of Philadelphia & Vicinity.
The merger proposal had been presented to members attending a Monday night town hall meeting at the Spring Valley YMCA. The proposal would merge the Freedom Valley YMCA, with locations in West Norriton, Phoenixville, Pottstown, Limerick and Pennsburg, with the larger Philadelphia YMCA, which has 10 locations in the Philadelphia region.
Proponents of the merger plan said it would allow the combined YMCAs to build a branch in Conshohocken, pay one national YMCA fee, tap into the larger corporate donor base of the Philadelphia YMCA and achieve cost savings with the larger organization. Fees would not be increased from the merger, members would continue using their “home” YMCA facilities and overcrowding would not be a by-product of the merger.
On Thursday night, YMCA officials provided bus service from three of the Freedom Valley YMCAs for members to vote during a two-hour period.
Jay Schaeffer, the president of the Freedom Valley YMCA, said the merger plan was approved by 110 members of the Philadelphia YMCA with no one voting against it on Thursday.
Because the members of both organizations have to approve the merger, the vote of the Freedom Valley YMCA will determine the outcome, Schaeffer said. The vote tabulation is expected to be completed by Friday morning, he said.
Schaeffer said he was very impressed by the size of the turnout in the first hour of voting at Chadwick’s Restaurant.
At 7:40 p.m., the line of members waiting to vote stretched out of the building and nearly into the parking lot. Inside the ballroom, the line made serpentine turns for members to reach the desk where their membership was checked. Voting was scheduled to run from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Schaeffer said the merger would not interfere with plans to build new YMCA facilities in Lower Providence and Upper Perkiomen.
Thomas Austin of Pottstown, a retired machine operator, called the merger plan “a pretty good idea.”
“I sometimes go to the SpringFord Y and it’s nice. It would bring more people together and open more doors of opportunity,” Austin said. “My kids have memberships too. My son is an avid sports guy. My daughter is too. It is a good place for children to hang out with their friends. I can let my kids go there and not be a nervous wreck.”
A contractor, Greg Kozel of Royersford, had plans to vote against the plan.
“I don’t have enough information to make an informed decision,” Kozel said. “Going forward I hope they will give more information so I can make a decision.”
A retired Perkiomen Valley school teacher, Helen Newton of Upper Providence, also planned to vote “no.”
“I don’t feel that the people in charge have given us enough valid reasons to vote yes,” Newton said. “We asked the questions on Tuesday night and they didn’t explain how we are really going to benefit from it.”
Newton also objected to the location of the voting. “A lot of us are senior citizens,” she said. “We thought it was inconvenient to come out here rather than voting at our Y.”
Tracy Ruel of Limerick said she was “voting no because they did not give out enough information. It seems they were trying to do it behind the scenes. Once they heard that people were concerned about it they started giving out more information.”
Tom Wand of Phoenixville said he would vote for the merger.
“I’m embarrassed that it is at all controversial,” Wand said. “The big rumor was they were going to bus kids from Philadelphia. I grew up in Boise, Idaho. It is appalling that people are un-welcoming. And, it isn’t true. The regulations keep people in their own Y for programs.”
A YMCA handout at the voting meeting detailed the merger’s reciprocity guidelines. “Members are expected to purchase a membership at the branch they intend to use most of the time,” the guideline said. “Usage of outdoor pools (Spring Valley, Phoenixville and Upper Perkiomen Valley) will be limited to current Freedom Valley YMCA Association members. Registration for adult physical classes will be limited to current Freedom Valley YMCA branch members. Freedom Valley members will not have access to register for free classes offered at the 10 current Philadelphia branches.”
Dave Norris of Phoenixville, called Schaeffer “an outstanding manager” but questioned the merger plan.
“I’m very skeptical. I’m against it. I don’t see the advantage,” Norris said. “They talk about saving money on insurance. Sharing programs, but for each of those I can present another argument. Bigger is not better.”
“All they presented was sunshine and rainbows,” Norris said. “When you believe in sunshine and rainbows you should look behind them.”
Derek Jenkins of Phoenixville voted for the merger.
“Financially it makes sense for two large organizations to merge. It will make the Freedom Valley Y more stable,” Jenkins said. “It makes it more sustainable for the long haul by becoming the ninth largest (YMCA) in the country.”
Thomas Froman of Pottstown called the merger “a good idea.”
“If it benefits the organization that allows them the leverage to gain from it,” Froman said. “It seems like a sound decision.”
Information about the proposed merger is at the Freedom Valley YMCA website at http://www.fvymca.org/about-us/index.php?arr1=0,1&itemid=35
Joe Uchniat of West Norriton said his vote was “going to be yes. This is a merger that will benefit everybody.”
Follow Carl Rotenberg on Twitter @CarlWriter.