PHOENIX -- The South Mountain Family YMCA closed Friday evening after serving the community for nearly two decades, with officials citing competition and the economy as reasons for the closure.
The center, located on the corner of Central Avenue and Baseline Road, is planned to become a school for students between the ages of 16 and 24 who have not completed high school.
YMCA officials announced in February that the facility would close because of declining membership and new competing gyms in the area.
YMCA will still operate the playing fields around the building, and members of the South Mountain center can use other YMCAs in the Valley at no charge through the end of May .
Many members of the community who have used the YMCA over the years were disappointed with the facility’s closing. It opened in 1995.
Kacey McKinney said his 4-year-old son attends preschool at the YMCA.
"Monday, I’m going to have to explain to him why he won’t come back here," McKinney said. "The school’s a good program. They taught my son to count and do his ABC’s, and he’s got a lot of friends in there that he hangs out with on the little kid dates."
South Phoenix mother Dee Valadez said she is heartbroken by the news, as two of her sons went through the preschool program at the YMCA. One of her children has special medical needs.
"The teachers here, the way they treated my son, they’ve just gone beyond … what their job description would ask them to do," Valadez said.
Shirley Neal, a YMCA member, said the closure was a loss for the community.
"It’s a slap in the face for South Phoenix," Neal said.
The centers closest to the South Mountain area are now the Tempe Family YMCA and the renovated YMCA in downtown Phoenix.