TOWANDA - It looks like the Bradford County Branch YMCA will remain in Towanda a long time.

All parties recently approved a 25-year lease for the Bradford County Branch YMCA, under which it will continue to occupy the borough-owned Susquehanna Collegiate Institute Building at 9 College Ave., Towanda for the next quarter-century, according to borough and YMCA officials.

The lease opens the door for the YMCA to apply for many grants that will allow it to make improvements at the site, including additional upgrades to the building and the purchase of equipment for the Y, said Towanda Borough Council member Shannon Clark, who also serves on the Bradford County Branch YMCA's board of directors.

There are many grants that a YMCA branch can apply for, but in most cases, the branch needs to prove that it will occupy the building where it is located over the long term in order to qualify for the grant, Clark explained.

The final approval needed for the lease occurred on Thursday, when the board of directors of the River Valley Regional YMCA, of which the Bradford County YMCA is a branch, approved the lease, said Charity Field, executive director of the local Y. The lease was previously approved by the Towanda Board Council and the board of directors of the Bradford County Branch YMCA, Clark said.

The total rent that the Y will be charged over the 25-year term of the lease is $1, Clark confirmed.

The lease requires that the Y at least maintain the present quantity and quality of services at the site, and that it make "a continuing reasonable effort" to expand the quality and quantity of services it offers to the public.

The lease also requires the Y to make "reasonable efforts" to obtain funding in the form of grants to make further upgrades to the S.C.I. Building.

In addition, the lease requires the Y to start paying a share of the utility bills for the S.C.I. Building. The Y's share of the utility bills rises over the 25-year term of the lease, starting at 10 percent during the first five years and increasing to 50 percent during the last five years. Last year, the utility bills for the S.C.I. Building totaled up to over $16,000.

The Y would not be able to increase the cost of its services to Towanda Borough residents without the approval of the Towanda Borough Council, the lease states. However, if the council denied the increase, the Y would have the right to appeal the council's decision to a Board of Arbitrators.

The Towanda Borough Council's vote to approve the lease was unanimous.

In interviews, Towanda Borough Councilman William Kovalcin Jr. and Clark both said the lease was fair to borough residents.

The Y, together with the borough, has invested money to improve the S.C.I. building, which was in an "old, beat-up" state when the Y moved in in the early 2000s, Kovalcin said.

Those upgrades have increased the value of the building "tremendously," Clark said.

Kovalcin noted that the Y has brought many programs and facilities - such as Zumba classes and a weight room - to the site, which benefit people in the area.

Towanda Borough Council President Mark Christini said earlier this week that the Bradford County Branch YMCA "is basically in a break-even situation" financially and that the borough should not put the local Y "in jeopardy" by saddling it with a lease it cannot afford to pay.

Clark noted that the S.C.I. Building has to be used in a way that will benefit the community, and the occupancy of the building by the YMCA meets that requirement. She said she believed the requirement was in a covenant in the deed for the property.

The YMCA initially had a lease on the building, but it expired years ago. Clark said that when she began serving on the borough council several years ago, negotiations were already taking place on the terms of the recently-approved 25-year lease.

The lease requires the Y to abide by the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of religion, and the 14th Amendment.

Field said: "I'm glad that we now have ... a lease in place."

James Loewenstein can be reached at (570) 265-1633; or email: jloewenstein@thedailyreview.com.