CATSKILL — After making a public plea for funding last fall, the Catskill Community Center is up for sale. The building was recently listed for $1.5 million.
Throughout the pandemic, the community center has continued to operate its food bank every Wednesday from 1:30-3 p.m. and its summer recreation program, which runs Monday through Friday, 8 a.m.- 5 p.m., July 6 to Aug. 21.
Catskill Community Center Board of Directors President Jeff Friedman described the decision as “gut-wrenching.”
“We’d love to continue the programming we have,” he said. “We have planned for years to even expand our programming, but we can’t do that without money. The village discontinued funding, now the town is discontinuing funding. In every other community [with a community center] municipal funding makes up the lion’s share of the budget.”
When the board began reaching out to the community for matching funds last fall, former Catskill Town Supervisor Doreen Davis said the town would maintain its annual contribution of $100,000 in the 2020 budget.
Friedman is anticipating a dramatic cut for 2021, he said.
“That will either be drastically cut or completely cut for 2021,” he said. “[We had] no reason given other than they don’t want to do it anymore, is what we’re being told,” Friedman said.
Budget discussions will start in September, Town Supervisor Dale Finch said, adding that the board will talk with the community center board at that time.
“It really depends what their programs are going to look like in 2021,” he said.
No decision has been made regarding the town’s contribution to the center at this time, Finch said.
“With COVID, everybody is going to get more scrutiny this year,” he said. “We are going to look at every line item to see what we can fund and what we can’t.”
The village stopped contributing to the center 14 years ago, Village President Vincent Seeley said.
“At that time, the town of Catskill started to fund them,” Seeley said. “It was supposed to be starter money to get the center back on its feet and the amount reduced yearly, but that funding, although slightly reduced, never ended. The switch from the village to the town funding was out of fairness to the village taxpayer. It is the Catskill Community Center and the burden to support it should come from all of Catskill and the surrounding hamlets.”
The center maintains its 13,000-square-foot building and 15-person staff for less than $200,000, Friedman said.
“The rest of the money [excluding the town’s contribution] we raise through grant funding or private contribution,” he said.
The center is unable to hold its annual Farm to Table this year due to the pandemic, Friedman said.
“Most of our programs, even the ones we charge for, we charge minimally, those programs cost us money,” he said.
There may be other reasons aside from the upkeep of the building behind the center’s failure, Seeley said.
“Location, location, location,” he said. “Having the community center on Main Street, with no outside activity area is the same as keeping these kids in their school day longer. Other challenges include parking and proximity to retail stores and restaurants.”
The funding limitations cause a burden to be placed on taxpayers and causes the center to ask a lot of its staff for little pay, Seeley said.
“The ability for the Community Center board to pay the correct salary for the right director to do the job has been impossible. I believe the job pays less than $40,000 and in my opinion you need to double that to get the skill set and experience to not only run the center but chase down grants and procure private funding. It is a huge job with a ton of responsibility.”
Another struggle is that some of the services offered by the center are replicated elsewhere in the community, Seeley said.
“There is a constant programming battle between the school, the library and the community center,” he said. “It seems like as soon as one organization would come up with an idea, all three had to duplicate it.”
For the past year and a half the board has been evaluating the center’s role in the community, Friedman said.
For example, are there services offered by the center that are duplicated by other organizations, are there are places that might offer the service if the community center were unable to continue the service, what services are still needed in the community, Friedman said.
“We are studying numerous options,” he said. “We are looking at having programming at another location, having a limited set of programs at several locations or no programming at all and using the money from the sale of the building and all leftover donation monies to create an endowment to fund programs in the community.”
The board has not yet identified specific alternate locations, Friedman said.
Seeley proposed integrating the center’s programs into the local library, school and churches or building a new facility, possibly at Elliott Park.
“The distance from the high school to Main Street to Elliott is the same, and it is closer to the elementary school,” Seeley said. “This also gives plenty of space for outdoor activities and the ability to create state of the art training facilities to offer programs to all ages.”
Friedman is aware of community’s needs, he said.
“We fully understand the need in the community,” Friedman said. “But unfortunately there has not been enough financial support from the community, either privately or through government funding. There is no way to financially sustain our present operation.” By divesting itself of the cost of maintaining the building, the board can hopefully meet the needs of the community on better financial footing, Friedman said.
“[We are evaluating] what’s the most effective and best way to do that,” he said. “So we can make sure the needs of our community are being met to the best of our ability.”
The community center temporarily closed due to lack of funding, Executive Director Margaret Tomlinson said. It reopened about 15 years ago with the help of village leaders such as author Hudson Talbott.
“It is close to the hearts of a lot of people in Catskill,” Tomlinson said.
The center came close to running out of funding in November, and began to search for new sources of revenue.
“Over the last few years our expenses have been going up and our revenues have gone down,” Tomlinson said last October. “We saw we’re going to run out of money in November if we didn’t raise something.”
In the fall, the center received $10,000 in matching pledges, $5,000 of which came from Mid-Hudson Cable, Tomlinson said. The other two donors asked to remain anonymous.
“The community center is at a crossroads,” Tomlinson said. “Our building is expensive to maintain. We have really important programs for young people, especially those who come from economically disadvantaged families.”
In addition to utilities, the center has insurance and staff costs to consider, Tomlinson said.
The center provides a variety of programs such as the Youth Drop In Recreation Center, Before & After School and Summer Recreation.
“One of our cornerstone programs is the Youth Drop In Center,” Tomlinson said.
Teens and pre-teens come to the center between 2:30 and 6:30 p.m. and have access to computers at the community center’s media lab to do their homework or can play outside on the basketball court, Tomlinson said.
“It’s very popular,” she added.
Cooking classes, pre-COVID, were offered at 4 p.m.
“We have former students, who are now staff, tell us how much it means to them to have learned to cook,” Tomlinson said.
During the five-week Summer Recreation program, which is held at Elliott Park, weather permitting, young people get to participate in outdoor activities and go swimming. In summer 2019, they learned about robotics.
The Catskill Community Center has been a part of the village for more than a century, first as the YMCA in 1909, and then the Catskill Boys Club in 1939, according to the listing on century21.com.
The building offers three storefronts with access to the second level, a gymnasium, craft room and full basement for storage, according to the listing.