For more than 30 years, the East Dallas branch of the YMCA has been a bedrock community institution, serving our ethnically and economically diverse area. But changing times are stressing the limits of its facility, located at 6220 Worth.

To meet the challenges of a growing community and increasing demand for its programs, our YMCA needs to relocate.

The YMCA offers a range of educational and athletic programs from youth sports to teen mentoring to family recreation. Last year, 2,700 people participated in at least one East Dallas YMCA program. Through the first six months of this year, the number of participants totaled more than 2,000 says East Dallas YMCA Director Nora Tomlin.

Code requirements prevent the Worth Street facility from being adequately renovated to provide badly needed activity rooms, storage space and a functional gymnasium. (The YMCA purchased the facility, the Old Parks mansion, in 1958.)

Surrounded on all sides by homes, the property also lacks ample parking space and isn’t large enough for a ball field. At present, our YMCA uses facilities at area schools and parks for several of its programs.

Our YMCA plans to relocate within its service area – roughly bordered by Central Expressway, I-30, White Rock Lake and Forest Lane – and is seeking 5-10 contiguous acres. YMCA officials say.

The East Dallas branch has requested $700,000 from the Metro YMCA as seed funds for a new facility. The request is a high-enough priority to virtually ensure our branch will receive the entire amount next year, says Tim Mack, East Dallas YMCA board chairman.

To maximize available resources, the YMCA has approached the Dallas Park and Recreation Department about leasing land on which to build a new East Dallas branch. Randall and Tietze Parks are possible sites.

Other Texas cities, including Abilene and San Antonio, have entered into successful long-term lease arrangements with local YMCAs, which has benefited communities.

City officials have expressed a willingness to consider a former proposal, but are cool to the lease idea out of concern for keeping parks open to the public and preserving open space, Mack says.

The project, however, can be designed to retain sufficient open space, and the City could require the East Dallas YMCA to maintain access to park land.

In exchange for using park land, YMCA officials have proposed expanding membership opportunities to the less-fortunate by charging a sliding-scale membership fee based on ability to pay. The YMCA also could maintain the ball fields and other facilities, supervise sports, and provide a resource to neighborhood kids.

Our entire community stands to benefit from a City/YMCA collaboration. The Park Department would save money by turning over property upkeep and site supervision to the East Dallas YMCA, and the YMCA could be used for City youth programs.

Children and teens would have a newer, larger facility in which to learn and play during the summer and after school. Adults could enjoy the pool, workout room and expanded facilities for league sports and family recreation.

With a lease from the City, our YMCA could use the $700,000, along with private donations and proceeds from the sale of the Worth Street property, to build facilities in phases over the next several years. Without a lease, our YMCAs initial resources would only meet the cost of land acquisition; construction of new facilities would likely be pushed back many years.

The YMCA’s proposal is the kind of win-win public/private enterprise our mayor and City Council should encourage and support. Let’s hope City Hall doesn’t adopt the reflexive “we-can’t-do-it-because-we’ve-never-done-it-that-way-before” approach, which so often stifles community initiative and good ideas.

We deserve a new YMCA facility. With some vision and open-mindedness from City Hall, it can happen – soon.