After the Flood
Cleaning up at the YMCA Comes with a $2 Million Bill
When walking through the sliding-glass doors to the main lobby of the YMCA of Frederick County, there’s a mural to the side of the entrance. Positive phrases and words are peppered throughout, but the largest, most prominent words are “learn,” “grow” and “thrive.” It’s the nonprofit’s motto but the words may also be used to describe how it bounced back after a devastating flood in late September caused around $2 million in damages.
“The building looks so great right now,” says Chris Colville, chief executive officer. “It’s hard to really fathom and wrap your head around the sheer magnitude of what we experienced now that it looks the way that it does today. I think a lot of times people are going to say, ‘Oh the Y is back up and running. They are fine. They don’t need our help anymore.’” Unfortunately, “Yeah, we still do need your help, at least financially. While we are able to be up and operating, there is still the ugly number of the cost associated with getting us back to square one.”
Since the building wasn’t constructed in a designated flood zone, it didn’t have flood insurance so all the damage wasn’t fully covered. Colville estimates the YMCA may receive $150,000 to $200,000 from insurance, leaving it with about $1.8 million to cover. The flood and its aftermath have “definitely been challenging,” Colville says. “I would not wish this experience on my worst enemy.”
Colville, who lives six blocks from the center at 1000 N. Market St., remembers getting the call around 9:30 p.m. on Sept. 29. A heavy storm quickly dumped around five inches of rain on the city and water was pouring into the YMCA. It took her about 10 to 15 minutes to get there. Instead of a parking lot, she found a lake complete with floating Dumpsters and swimming Koi that had escaped from a neighbor’s pond.
The building itself is about 95,000 square feet and approximately 35,000 to 40,000 square feet contained varying amounts of water. The basement, housing electrical panels, the heating and air conditioning units, generators, and boilers, plus other various building materials, was completely submerged. “[A] video camera captured 18 minutes of nothing but a rushing river coming in here,” Colville says during a tour. “This is like the brains of the Y [and] you are talking from floor to ceiling [water].” She points out two windows near the floor that the water blew out and the twisted metal frame that remains from double steel doors that a torrent ripped off the hinges. Colville runs her hand over a portion of a brick wall that the water destroyed. New bricks are cemented with ones that have been there for many years.
With nowhere left to go, about four to six inches of water traveled into the ground level—home of the Y’s pools, childhood development center, racquetball courts and rooms for aerobics classes. There are three storm drains in the parking lots and adjacent alley, yet they could not handle the amount of water that night; an ongoing independent study might provide answers about their failure. “We are still trying to evaluate how it happened and why it happened and whether or not it can be prevented from ever happening again,” Colville says.
While the YMCA had disaster plans in place, the flooding caused it to look deeper at its systems and infrastructure to evaluate. “We’ve had some good life lessons in regards to where we are as an organization,” she says.
Cleanup began before the storm fully moved out of the area. “It took us almost two days to pump all the water out,” Colville says. “That’s how much water there was in the entire building. Everything was covered with mud and debris.”
The building was shut down for nearly two weeks but employees were able to move some activities to other locations. The child development center was only closed for three days with care moved to a spare classroom in nearby North Frederick Elementary School and Beth Shalom Congregation.
Debris was removed as quickly as possible with two 40-foot long Dumpsters filled at a time. “As soon as we filled it up to the top, the guys came and picked it up, took it off and they dropped two more,” Colville says. “They did that every day for almost two weeks solid.” Drywall, ductwork, baseboards, furniture, ceiling tiles, racquetball court flooring and appliances from the kitchen were just some of the non-salvageable items. All the debris filled a total 18 Dumpsters.
Fifty to 100 staff and volunteers from the community came to assist with the cleanup. “People we had never met before,” Colville says. “Some people that didn’t even have a relationship with the YMCA just said, ‘Hey. I read about it or I saw it online. I’m here to help.’”
Brandenburg Electric spent the better part of a month at the Y replacing equipment submerged in water and had as many as five employees on site every day during the cleanup. “You have to help people out when they get in a situation like that,” says Robbie Norwood, service manager for Brandenburg.
Tim Dunn, YMCA’s executive director of facilities/information technology, says other local companies that went “above and beyond” to help included Rick Jones Electric, Pipe Down Plumbing Service, Servpro and 5th Avenue Floors.
The cleanup “stretched staff, myself included, in ways that we probably weren’t thinking about emotionally, spiritually, physically, mentally,” Colville says. “We’ve had to pull within ourselves to muster up the energy to navigate though this.”
Walking through the building about 100 days after the flood, one would not know the damage occurred so recently. The walls have fresh paint, a new HVAC system hums in an office formerly occupied by Colville, kids are playing in clean classrooms and adults are taking classes in various tidy studios. “From the naked eye, most people think that everything is fully 100 percent operational and, by all accounts, it really is,” Colville says. The remaining concern from the storm is the financial cost.
In mid-December, the Ausherman Family Foundation announced its intention to offer the nonprofit a $500,000 matching grant. “We have found, in our operation of our family foundation, a good deal of success with matching grants,” says Marvin Ausherman, foundation co-founder and trustee. “It seems to help people give when they know if they give $10, it really gives the YMCA or another charity $20. It doubles their money.”
The decision to help the Y was an easy one for the foundation’s trustees. During a meeting, “everybody around the table started telling stories that they had, their experience in the Y,” Ausherman says. Whether it was learning to swim in the Y’s pool, taking aerobics classes or attending after-school programs, everyone shared a story. The Y is a “critical element in our community’s health,” he says.
The Y also continues to be a place to build lasting friendships with people you meet there, according to Lisa Ausherman, foundation chairman and co-founder. “It’s an organization that we can’t do without and there are a few key organizations that we really feel that strongly about that we really just can’t do without.”
The fund matching runs from the date of the September flood until the end of this year. “That [grant] could be huge,” Colville says. “That would take a lot of the financial burden off of the Y. We are going to have to rely on community support for contributions and then whatever that gap number ends up being at the end of the day we are probably going to have to borrow the money.”
The Y has a GoFundMe page that had more than $22,000 in contributions in late February. Area restaurants and businesses have offered to host events where a certain percentage of their proceeds would go toward the Y. Local bands have also reached out to offer to play a benefit concert, if one is hosted. Colville says they are also looking to apply for additional grant opportunities.
“The reason [financial support is] important is if I can get back up and collect the fees necessary to pay for everything we have already paid for in terms of the repairs, that allows us to continue to expand and provide services to those that are in need. I don’t want to have to take money away from a program or service or target area that we normally would want to provide services to because I’ve got to be worried, ‘How am I paying for the electric bill?’ ‘How am I paying for the HVAC system?’ I would like to be able to figure that out and still be able to do everything else—the mission side of who we are and what we stand for.”