Good news for Y users: Soon you can use St. Louis facilities

News-DemocratJanuary 29, 2014 

The YMCA of Southwestern Illinois will merge with the YMCA of Greater St. Louis effective March 1.

The merger aims to better suit metro-east residents who commute across the river for work and vice versa, said YMCA of Southwestern Illinois Interim President and Chief Executive Officer Jared Beard.

"We have members who would like to have that reciprocal membership and we felt that was important and a priority for us," Beard said.

Current members from both boards of directors will be combined into one organization that will be known as the Gateway Region YMCA. It will include 23 branches with more than 200,000 members.

"A significant part of the population that works in St. Louis goes back and forth across the river, both ways, every day," said Gary Schlansker, who will serve as the president and chief executive officer of the new regional YMCA. "Our thinking was to make this easier for anyone who lives on one side and works on the other side."

For the last 10 years, Schlansker has served as the president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater St. Louis and has been a Y employee for 38 years.

Beard will serve as the vice president of operations of the Gateway Region YMCA and oversee the metro-east branches. Beard said that YMCA of Greater St. Louis Board of Directors Chair Al Kent approached the metro-east Y board chair Bill Gavin last year to talk about merging the two organizations. At the time, recent president and CEO Jorge Perez had stepped down to take a new job with the YMCA of the USA in Chicago.

"They were looking at that as an opportunity for a way that we might work together," Beard said. "And through that process we determined that a collaboration or partnership is better and makes a lot of sense. We could find different ways through our programs to impact more people and strengthen the community."

Schlansker said employees from all 23 branches will keep their jobs. He said this move also will give members in the metro-east and on the Missouri side access to branches on both sides of the river. He said the rates members currently pay will initially remain unchanged. The new regional organization plans to discuss what rate structure eventually to implement at all of the branches.

The 35,000 members of the YMCA of Southwestern Illinois have paid a flat rate to access all of its branches in Belleville, O'Fallon, Maryville, Red Bud and Columbia. The YMCAs in Edwardsville and Granite City remain independent.

Members from the Greater St. Louis YMCA have been paying a "metro rate" to access to all of its Ys in St. Louis, St. Louis County, St. Charles County, Jefferson County, Franklin County and Washington County. Those members also have the choice of paying a cheaper rate to access only one of those branches.

The Gateway Region YMCA will be available to members throughout St. Clair, Madison, Monroe, Randolph, Clinton and Marion counties in Southwestern Illinois. In Missouri, residents in St. Louis, St. Louis County, St. Charles County, Jefferson County, Franklin County, Washington County, St. Francois County and Ste. Genevieve County will have access to the new association.

Both Ys have provided financial assistance to help residents unable to afford a membership. Last year, the two provided more than $5.3 million in scholarships.

Contact reporter Will Buss at wbuss@bnd.com or 618-239-2526.

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