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(Rick Hickman / Special to the American Press)

(Rick Hickman / Special to the American Press)

Residents: YMCA building an eyesore

Last Modified: Sunday, November 11, 2012 12:19 AM

By Eric Cormier / American Press

The big building is an eyesore. Rodents thrive in it. Homeless people leave trash around it. Crimes take place in its rooms.

If there is anything positive about the building, it’s the parking lot, which is useful for events and additional parking.

Those are just a few of the ways people who live near the former YMCA building at 618 Kirby St. describe the structure, which has been empty since 2005 due to damage caused by Hurricane Rita.

A few efforts have been made to refurbish and reopen the former community and athletic center, which opened in 1956. Currently, the organization’s board of directors is trying to figure out the building’s long-term future

“There are two options we are considering. First, we want to find a charity to work with and see if it is possible to partner with them and start a program using the building,” said board chairman Brian Vallier. “Second, the thought is to see if we should possibly sell the building.”

The building is in surprisingly good shape, despite its derelict appearance, he said. The masonry has held up to environmental and man-made stresses, Vallier said.

“Our objective is to have the building serve the community and hopefully children as well,” he said. “It’s about making a really good decision now.”

Any decision — sooner rather than later — would please Justin Mouser, who lives behind the YMCA building on Kirby Street. Every time he looks outside his front window or opens the front door, the empty building awaits.

Mouser has been living in the home since 2008.

“They need to tear it down and build a park,” he said. “Nobody will remodel it.”

He wadmits that the building’s big parking lot is useful when lots of his friends visit.

Mouser is happy that the YMCA building’s yard is kept up, but he believes mold has infested the structure. He is miffed about getting the “run around” after his attempts to find out what the board intends to do with the building.

“Not to mention. If government is trying to redo downtown, this building puts a damper on everything,” he said. “The post office is across the street and everybody who goes there, and everybody who comes downtown, sees that building sitting there looking like that.”

Aside from having boarded-up doors and windows, the building’s exterior is marred by graffiti. Next to the main entrance door stands a white sign with “YMCA” painted on it. Directly in front of the building is a sign advertising the most recent — and unsuccessful — fundraising attempt for the organization.

Through the entrance’s glass doors, a passerby can see cardboard boxes, computer terminals, a soccer ball, a stool, books and lots of dust inside.

Todd Melton owns a business next door to the YMCA wbuilding. Until he complained, Melton said, people could also be seen coming out of the building.

“I caught a guy stealing copper out of there. It is an eyesore. Squirrels, birds, rats all live in there. And you know what? If I was homeless and needed a place to hang out, I’d want to be in there,” he said. “The neighborhood cat loves it. I see it carrying rats.”

The copper thief caused flooding in the bottom areas of the building. Melton called a board member about the problem. Water was pumped out, and all entrances were boarded up as a result, Melton said.

Both Mouser and Melton think the building is adversely affecting their property values.

Vallier did not say when the board would make a final decision. The YMCA board consists of Vallier, Brad Guillory, R.B. Smith, Stephanie Weaver and Gisele McKinney.

Attempts to sell or refurbish the building started in 2007. In February of that year, the board decided to place the structure on the real estate market.

A year later, efforts started to reopen the building in 2009. Officials estimated that it would cost $7 million to renovate the building and reopen it to the public. But fundraising attempts failed to generate broad support from the community.

According to Vallier, the building was appraised for $500,000. In 2010, the board showed net assets of $166,347 on their nonprofit tax forms. Vallier said the group’s taxes and books are current.

“None of this is cut and dry. None of this is easy. We keep the building up. It is secured,” he said. “But point blank: The community did not come forward to support the YMCA.”

Posted By: Randy Brown On: 11/16/2012

Title: Randy Brown - retired YMCA professional

Is it possible to get a phone number for the YMCA Board Members listed in the article. I would like to discuss some other options about the former Y before they sell the building. I was a student and baseball player at McNeese in the early 70"s and used the YNCA on a consistent basis. l have been with the YMCA"s since graduating in 1976. Thank you for your assistance. I think the Lake Charles area deserves a YMCA program regardless of the challenges. It has changed so many lives.

Posted By: Steve A On: 11/11/2012

Title: Good Memories

I can remember as a 10yr old in the late 60's, I grew up over at 5th and Bank.........and on Saturday afternoon would skip on over to the Y and watch the Saturday afternoon monster movie.........on their tv of mom wouldn't let us stay in the house to watch it.

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