Chapel Hill-Carrboro YMCA:
Published: Feb 05, 2013 06:00 PM
Modified: Feb 05, 2013 05:03 PM
CHAPEL HILL - The note caught Bob Epting off-guard.
Epting, a local attorney who had represented the Chapel Hill-Carrboro YMCA on occasion, has been a member of the Y since it opened its location along what was then Airport Road. He exercises there four to five times a week on average, and he also is an avid handball player who uses an available indoor court at the YMCA when he can.
The demand for use of the two courts — with hardwood floors, smooth walls and high ceilings — is large enough on weekends that racquetball, squash and handball players usually have to reserve their court time.
In early January, Epting arrived for his playing time and saw for a piece of paper posted on the door of the courts, stating that the Chapel Hill-Carrboro YMCA was planning to remove Chapel Hill’s only public racquetball courts.
The space was to be used to expand the YMCA’s exercise area. It’s part of an overhaul of the facility.
“This wasn’t even on the radar screen until that note was posted on the door saying that the courts would be closing in the spring,” Epting said.
News of the closing spread quickly among the ball players. Within a couple of weeks, almost 200 YMCA members signed a petition sent to the Y’s board, asking it to immediately halt the plans and to reconsider the proposed expansion.
“The board needs to step back and figure out how to include the court-users in the decision-making process,” Epting said in an interview last week.
Epting and fellow YMCA court-user Billy Barnes attempted to follow up on the petition at the January meeting of the YMCA directors, but were told the meeting was closed to the public
“Who closed the meeting, and why was it closed to the public?” Epting asked. He’s yet to receive what he considers a satisfactory answer.
“The board seems to have some great fear of hearing from the court-users,” Epting said.
Grooms has not been available for comment since last Wednesday.
Dabney Grinnan, the new chair of the local YMCA board, said last week that she preferred all meetings be opened, but that the consensus among the directors was to close that session.
“At the minimum, transparency can make your life easier,” Grinnan said.
Grinnan later announced that board had reviewed the petitions and declined to reverse its decision to remove the courts at the building located on Martin Luther King Blvd.
“We are tasked by the YMCA membership to provide he best services possible,” Grinnan said. “We believe that an overhaul of the MLK facility is the best way to do that. … It is long overdue.”
The disagreement over that court space has left both sides saddened, like members of a family after a spat. Epting stresses repeatedly that he and the court-users respect Grooms, Grinnan and the board and that all of them have the best interests of the YMCA at heart. Grinnan says the feeling is mutual.
“I feel a great deal of compassion for the racquetball players. … I’d love to make them happy,” Grinnan said. “But this decision to overhaul the facility is in the interest of all the members.”
Ironically, the expansion plan is temporarily on hold because of monetary concerns about its cost.
“The plan is just that — a plan,” Grinnan said. The board will take more time to review architectural plans for the renovation.
That gives the court-users time to continue its appeals.
“I think we’re making some progress on this,” Barnes said. “Only time will tell.”