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YWCA McLean County’s decision to discontinue its health and fitness programs has elicited a range of reactions, from disappointment from YWCA swimmers to understanding from some members that change was inevitable.

As other fitness centers are dusting off their welcome mats, YWCA President and CEO Jane Chamberlain clarified that the Y gymnasium in Bloomington will remain open for rental for basketball, volleyball, fencing and badminton groups and that one of the Y’s fitness rooms will remain available for Y programming and for other groups.

“It has been a mixed reaction,” Chamberlain acknowledged this week.

Last week, she announced the Y board’s decision to halt health and fitness programs on May 28 to allow the Y to focus its limited resources on its Stepping Stones sexual assault program, Medivan non-emergency transportation for older adults, Home Care services to older adults, the Retired Senior Volunteer Program and child care.

Those programs have been serving more people. Meanwhile, health and fitness visits dropped 50 percent from 2007 to 2009 as more fitness centers opened in Bloomington-Normal, she said. The Y board decided to focus on programs that are unique to the Y and its mission to eliminate racism and empower women.

Thirteen part-time health and fitness instructors will lose their jobs but some already have been working as instructors at other centers.

While some members understand why the change is being made, the most negative reaction has been from YWCA lap swimmers and attendees of water fitness classes, Chamberlain said. Among them is Barbara Schaad of Bloomington, who lap swims three times a week.

“I’m very disappointed because I truly don’t understand how they are saying the mission does not include health and fitness,” Schaad said, taking a break from swimming Tuesday afternoon. “I respect Stepping Stones and the programs for older adults but there’s a core of people here who will really miss an indoor pool, especially in the winter time.”

Schaad is considering joining the Bloomington-Normal YMCA or swimming at Illinois State University because her husband is retired from ISU. She would rather not go to the YMCA because its location south of downtown is far from her residence on Bloomington’s east side.

YMCA will honor current, pre-paid YWCA health and fitness memberships for the duration of the memberships and children who take swim lessons will be offered lessons at the YMCA, Executive Director B.J. Wilken said.

Wilken said YMCA is trying to accommodate YWCA’s water exercisers. Forty-nine percent of YMCA members are women.

Wilken and Four Seasons Association General Manager Jeff Leverton said they have had visits and phone calls from YWCA members, especially swimmers.

YWCA is offering refunds through June 30 to members who don’t want to transfer their membership to the YMCA. As of late afternoon Tuesday, fewer than a dozen members had made that request, Chamberlain said.

A YWCA board committee will decide what to do with the pool space, she said.

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