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Armed Services YMCA in Oak Harbor closing
Soon, the laughter and chatter of children will no longer fill the classrooms and the playground of Whidbey Island Armed Services YMCA.
An estimated 3,000 children learned, played and made friends inside the old building in Oak Harbor over two decades.
Alumnus of the preschool and kindergarten programs include a recent national spelling bee champion, local sports heroes and many college graduates.
“There’s a lot of history here in this building,” said Kathy Laurion, who works as a teacher, bus driver and food program supervisor.
“A lot. It’s sad to see this go.”
THE FACILITY is closing this month after providing affordable child care to military and civilian families for 22 years.
The closure means dozens of families have to find alternative child care, five members of the teaching staff are losing their jobs and another building will sit empty on Pioneer Way.
Butch Laurion, the director of the facility and husband to Kathy, said a number of factors led the Armed Services YMCA of the USA organization to close the facility in Oak Harbor.
The big issue, he said, is that it’s the only Armed Services YMCA facility that’s not on a military base and the national nonprofit organization wants to get out of the property-owning business.
LAURION SAID said running the program was a wonderful experience and he is sad to see it come to an end.
“It’s going to be very hard to walk away,” he said. “It’s been a definite labor of love for everyone who’s been in the program over the last 22 years.”
The last kindergarten and preschool classes graduated last week. It was the last time Laurion would recite a short platitude to parents about how making a difference in a child’s life is more important that riches or success.
It’s a belief he holds close to his heart.
“It’s been a wonderful, exhilarating experience,” he said.
“They become part of your family.”
LAURION TRACES the facility’s beginning to the late 1940s, when a USO was opened in the building that now houses the Casual House.
He said the USO moved a few years later to the building that is currently the Montessori. Then the current facility on Pioneer Way was built in 1968.
In 1977, the Armed Services YMCA of the USA purchased 12 USO buildings, including the one in Oak Harbor. In 1984, the Armed Services YMCA separated from the YMCA and was officially recognized as a part of the Department of Defense, according to the Armed Services YMCA website.
IN 1991 Laurion was hired as a consultant to help the struggling branch with its finances. He was hired as director the following year.
The facility’s focus was on creating special events for single sailors, but Laurion determined that the events were neither popular nor financially feasible.
He said he saw promise in a child-care program started at a church in 1991 to offer relief to the Navy’s child-care facility, which had a one-year waiting list at the time.
Laurion brought the child care into the Armed Services YMCA building after it was remodeled into classrooms.
Under Laurion’s leadership, an all-day kindergarten was begun, as well as before-school and after-school care and a summer program for older kids.
Child care at the Armed Services YMCA was affordable. Current cost is $385 a month for full-time care.
THE CHILD-CARE program earned state and national awards for excellence, said Laurion. It was repeatedly named Best Child Care in the Best of Whidbey contest.
“For Oak Harbor families, the closure makes it more difficult for them to find a quality, loving child-care environment for a reasonable price,” he said.
Armed Services YMCA’s mission is to help sailors who are “E-5 and below,” which are petty officers second class and below, said Laurion, adding the branch was fulfilling the mission early on, when more than 80 percent of the children were from military families.
At its peak enrollment, approximately 100 children were attending the school; currently there are 51.
Nowadays, only a third of the families are military.
“That doesn’t fit our mission,” he said, explaining that it’s another reason the facility is being shuttered.
The building, which sits on a prime piece of Pioneer Way real estate, is up for sale. It’s estimated value is $750,000.