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YMCA Learning Center nears reopening

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The Missoula YMCA Learning Center is less than two weeks from reopening. Workers spent the last four months cleaning up meth contamination there.

On Wednesday crews opened one box after another.

“It feels a little like Christmas today,” Missoula Family YMCA CEO Heather Foster said. “We have to constantly look for the positive, and today feels really positive.”

New furniture and other supplies will replace what the YMCA had to throw out. Prosecutors charged former Missoula YMCA employee Autumn Heinz with using meth on the job in a base cabinet in the Learning Center’s laundry room. You won’t find those in the newly renovated building.

“No base cabinets,” Foster said. “You know, it sounds silly, but honestly, if you were able to do something like that in that space, then we weren’t using them.”

There are security cameras and new locking mechanisms. Leaders have removed access to parts of the building.

Tests showed meth contamination in several classrooms, forcing leaders to clean and renovate the space and throw out toys, books and artwork.

“I said it from day one that I had to look at this through the eyes of a parent, which I am,” Foster said. “And I needed to feel really confident that when families came back in our building, they knew everything was clean.”

The cost is over $400,000 and rising. There’s no promise insurance will cover anything.

“It's huge. We're really fortunate that we're such a large organization and we're able to do this, but it's something that we're going to feel for a long time,” Foster said.

People have reached out to the YMCA asking to help.

“We weren't quite sure how we felt about it initially, because we wanted to make sure it was our responsibility that we took care of this,” Foster said. “But we've heard from many families and donors and community leaders, and they've asked how they can help make sure we get our kiddos back in this center. So we did create a registry of sorts, from curriculum and books to crayons and markers.”

There’s still work to do, but each opened box represents the light at the end of the tunnel and the hope that this story created a larger and much-needed conversation about just how serious the meth problem is in Montana.

The YMCA plans to reopen the Learning Center Aug. 13. For more information on the registry click here.

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