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The YMCA that has served Rhea County for more than three decades will close at the end of this month.

The announcement comes nine years after the Rhea County Y transitioned from being independently owned to merging with the YMCA of Metropolitan Chattanooga, said Rick Madison, chief operating officer at the Chattanooga YMCA.

"We just have not been able to gain the interest in programs to make it sustainable," Madison said.

The Rhea Y lost more than $400,000 in the past nine years, Madison said. And despite efforts to increase interest to make it sustainable, Y membership stalled at 351 members.

But YMCA board members haven't given up hope for making fitness services available to the county's 32,000 residents.

Board members met with Dayton city officials for more than an hour Thursday and emerged with the possibility of reopening the facility on Jan. 2.

"There is high hopes that we will continue with an organization that provides similar services for Rhea County," said Cindy Horton, Rhea Family YMCA board member and fitness instructor.

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Rick Madison

Horton expects to share more details after meeting with Dayton officials again next week.

She said the board had less than two weeks notice of the Rhea Family YMCA closing.

"It [the fitness center] is a very necessary organization for this county. We don't have anything else that offers services like this organization has offered for the past 30 years, and nobody wants to see it go away."

The only youth soccer program and the only organization offering swim lessons in the county came through the Y.

"Dec. 31 is not going to be it," Horton said. "The hope is that we will have an organization here Jan. 2."

Longtime Rhea County YMCA supporter Helen Taylor said investing in the Rhea County Y would have been helpful.

"The facilities are substandard to any other Y facility, but the price is the same. There's not a pool," Taylor said. "It's in an old gym."

Some people from Rhea County drive to gyms in Hixson, but if the Rhea County Y had an updated facility, people would come, she added.

"It's just one more thing that we don't have to do anymore. There's really nothing to do in Rhea County," Taylor said.

The Y provided family movie nights, tumbling classes and outstanding child care, she said.

Taylor, who came to Rhea County more than 20 years ago as a single mom, became a long-time financial supporter of the Y because of the child care and assistance it provided her. The Y should have given parents more than five-weeks notice to scramble and find child care, she said.

The Y provides child care for more than two dozen children, said Madison, who suggested Bright Learning Academy as an option to Rhea County families depending on the Y for child care.

Like the Y, Bright Learning Academy provides transportation for attending students.

Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at yputman@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6431.

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