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Published in Print: August 4, 1999, as Chicago District Swaps Land for Student YMCA Memberships

Chicago District Swaps Land for Student YMCA Memberships

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The Chicago public schools have donated a $1.3 million land parcel to the metropolitan YMCA for a new recreation facility in exchange for memberships for city students.

The unusual partnership benefits both sides, officials say, and construction on the first stages of the YMCA center, estimated to cost $3.3 million, is to begin next year. The district agreed in May to donate the 175,000-square-foot lot in the southwest portion of the city after determining that no schools were needed there.

"We didn't need the land, and we were looking for something that would be worthwhile," said Cozette Buckney, the chief education officer for the 431,000-student district.

Ms. Buckney added that the community in that area needed recreational and family programs.

In exchange for the parcel, the YMCA will pay $1 every year for 50 years, and will each year give 1,200 one-year youth memberships to Chicago students. The memberships are valued at $1.4 million.

The new facility will include a family sports center with a large gymnasium, a fitness center for teenagers and adults, and a computer room with Internet access.

Tino Mantella, the president of the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago, said the area by Midway Airport doesn't have a YMCA facility nearby. The donated land will allow the organization to serve the economically and ethnically mixed neighborhood, she said.

The YMCA has raised $1.7 million so far and plans to break ground on the project next spring.

A Student Incentive

Ms. Buckney said the memberships have been awarded to the 50 lowest-performing schools in the city as an incentive for their top students. "We wanted to give the students exposure to things they wouldn't normally get a chance to use," she said.

Mr. Mantella said that such an exchange was rare, but that it was an example of the several partnerships the nonprofit organization has with the district, including Head Start centers, leaders' groups, swimming instruction, and foster-care facilities.

"Our partnership with the schools has continued to evolve as schools see the significant role a private organization can play," he said. "Schools can't do everything, and sometimes other groups are in a better position to provide certain services."

Ms. Buckney agreed: "It was a good mix of what the YMCA wanted to do [with] our goals of creating meaningful experiences outside of the classroom."

Vol. 18, Issue 43, Page 5

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