Plans to repurpose Y courts upsets longtime users

Feb. 16, 2013 @ 02:08 PM

Bob Epting began playing handball while a freshman at UNC in 1963.
The Chapel Hill attorney still plays several times a week as part of a seniors group at the Chapel Hill-Carrboro YMCA, something he’s done there for more than 30 years because his alma mater decided to restrict usage of its courts to students, faculty and staff.
Epting will likely be forced again to find new courts to play the game he loves.
That’s because the Y is planning to close the racquet/handball courts and use the space to expand its wellness center, which is often crowded during peak hours, forcing members to wait for long periods to use exercise equipment.
But Epting said he and the 75 to 100 members who use the Y’s two courts are upset that they were not consulted before the Y’s Board of Directors made the decision to get rid of them.
“That process was a secret process,” Epting complained.
And he says it’s understandable that when asked in a survey what the Y could do better, that members who use the wellness center responded that they want more space and equipment to curb long waits during peak hours.
“That’s not surprising,” Epting said. “We’d like more courts so we wouldn’t have to wait on courts during peak times, too.”
Furthermore, Epting said it’s strange that not a single member who uses the courts ever saw the survey.
“That just boggles the mind,” Epting said. “Almost certainly, that was intentional for whatever reason. It never reached a single member who is a court user.”
But a Y official said there is no conspiracy afoot, in spite of what some court-users might believe.
“There’s no collusion or grand scheme here,” said Dabney Grinnan, chairwoman of the Y’s board of directors, who contends there are about 50 members who regularly use the courts.
Grinnan said the decision to expand the wellness center into the space occupied by the courts is the Y’s best effort to address the needs of the vast majority of its 5,000-plus members, not including the children of Y members.
“We made our decision based on how to best serve our membership and community,” Grinnan said. “We’re trying to do the best we can for the most people here.”
By comparison, Grinnan said the wellness center’s floor is located in about 1,400 square feet of space while the two courts and accompanying hallway take up 1,600 square feet.
“We are really, really crowded on that floor,” Grinnan said, referring to the wellness center where the facility’s exercise equipment is located.
She said the board is currently waiting on the architect’s renderings of the expansion, which will be posted for members when completed.
If the renderings are approved by the board, Grinnan said the Y will apply for town permits to begin the renovation and expansion project. She said that if all goes well, the project could be under way by spring.
In the meantime, the Y is talking with UNC and officials at the Lakewood Y in Durham about possibly allowing the racquet/handball players to use their courts.
But Epting said being told to go to Durham is insulting, because he can do that anyway without being told do so by Y officials.
He also complained about a closed door meeting the board held to discuss the expansion and the general treatment of the racquet/handball players who he said have given financial and professional support to the Y over the years.
Epting has submitted a request on behalf of the players to amend the Y’s bylaws to clarify that meetings of the Board of Directors are open to the membership.
Additionally, a second request has been made to request that the bylaws are amended to ensure that none of the major components of the Y such as courts, gym, pool or wellness center may be closed, repurposed or eliminated as long as they are regularly used by at least 50 members and those users are consulted and allowed input before such a decision is made.  
“For them to say we’re going to take your space and give it to others is just wrong and unfair,” Epting said. “It’s just wrong.
But Grinnan said the Y has an obligation to make decisions that are in the best interest of the majority of its membership.
“The racquetball group is a passionate group, but it’s such a small portion of our membership,” Grinnan said. “There is nothing else motivating us. We’re just trying to do the best we can for the most people.”