BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | When the formerly wide-open men’s shower room at the McBurney YMCA was divided up into individual stalls in April it sparked some speculation among members as to why it had been done. Had there been an incident, or incidents, at the high-profile gym, at 14th St. and Sixth Ave., that prompted a move for more privacy?
No explanation was given prior to the work, in which each showerhead was sectioned off with fiberglass partitions on the sides and a thin, polyester shower curtain in front. The men’s main showers were closed for about three weeks during the renovation, during which the members had to use alternate showers in the facility.
After the newly partitioned shower room was unveiled, the facility received many comments from members. According to John Rappaport, the McBurney Y’s executive director, the majority of the comments were positive, but a number of the remarks criticized some or all of the features of the new stalls. As a result, the following month, he addressed the feedback in a letter to members.
In his letter, Rappaport gave several reasons for installing the stalls:
First, he said, the dividers were actually part of the Y’s original design but were left out because the overall construction of the facility proved more expensive than original estimates.
Also, the idea was to create privacy for people showering, and to decrease “inappropriate behavior,” his letter continued. Rappaport noted that some Y members had “expressed feeling very uncomfortable showering in an open environment, or…had either felt uncomfortable being looked at, or had witnessed inappropriate behavior in the shower area.” Instances of inappropriate behavior had been described to the Y’s staff, the letter noted, as well as being “mentioned on several different Internet sites.”
Some members wondered if the Y was trying to “re-create the culture of surrounding private clubs.” However, Rappaport responded this wasn’t the case at all, and that showers with stalls is the model for all YMCA’s.
At least one longtime Y member, though, when he saw the new dividers, wondered if there was more to the story. Speaking to The Villager on condition of anonymity, he said there had been an incident a while ago involving the teenage son of an adult member.
“The father was complaining to me that this guy had inappropriately touched his child,” the member said. “I think the cops were called.
“It’s my surmising that there is a connection” between the incident and the showers’ renovation, the source said.
The father has been avoiding the media, denying two interview requests by TV news, the member said. He gave the father The Villager’s contact information, but the man did not contact the newspaper for this story. Attempts by The Villager to reach the father were unsuccessful.
The source added that at one point the father was so upset he claimed he was considering suing the Y.
However, another Y member said when he inquired of the gym’s staff why the new stalls were added, he was told, “It had to be brought up to code.”
It turns out that, in fact, there was an incident. A New York Police Department spokesperson said that Victor Paravati, 51, of 202 W. 24th St., was arrested on Dec. 21, 2012, at 11:30 p.m., at the McBurney Y for forcible touching.
“He slapped the buttocks of a 17-year-old male for no reason,” the spokesperson said. The definition of “forcible touching” includes that the act was done “for no reason.” It’s an “A” misdemeanor offense.
The police spokesperson confirmed that the arrest happened “inside the facility.” The complaint filed by the Manhattan district attorney also states that the “occurrence location” was “inside 125 West 14th Street,” the McBurney Y’s address.
However, the alleged incident actually occurred earlier, on Aug. 19, 2012, at 8 p.m., but was not reported to police until November, who then made the arrest the following month. According to the police spokesperson, this was the only arrest at the McBurney Y in 2012, and there have been none there so far this year.
As for why it took four months for the complaint to be filed, the Y member speculated of the victim, “Maybe it took him a while to open up.”
Paravati has no other arrests in New York City, according to the N.Y.P.D. He is not a registered sex offender, according to the New York State Sex Offender Registry.
According to the D.A.’s Office, Paravati was released on his own recognizance following his arraignment. There was a June 11 court date, at which the prosecution requested an adjournment until July 31.
Efforts to reach Paravati by deadline were not successful. A New Jersey phone number listed for him was not in service. The Villager also left a message at his apparent employer, where he apparently works as a videographer. An employee who answered the phone there said the Victor Paravati that works at the company matched the description of the accused, but he did not want to be quoted for this article. He said he would pass the message on to Paravati.
In three separate telephone interviews with The Villager, McBurney Y Director Rappaport said he was unaware of Paravati’s arrest, and that there was no connection with the new shower dividers.
“I didn’t know of such an incident,” he said. “That’s all news to me. There was nothing like this that was part of our thinking on it.”
He reiterated that the shower stalls in the men’s locker room were part of the original plan for the Y, which opened in December 2002.
“It’s a natural trend,” he said of the new dividers. “It’s something our members have been asking for for a long time. A lot of people had said they were uncomfortable in the gang type of shower. The world has changed. It just provides a better environment in a lot of ways.”
The total cost of putting in the dividers this April was $40,000, and included moving back and reconstructing one of the walls to provide more room so the stalls could be installed. If they had been put in originally, it would have only cost $25,000.
The price tag for building the whole McBurney Y was $40 million, which was “significantly over” the original estimate, he noted.
Asked if Paravati is a member of the McBurney Y and, if so, if the Y had moved to terminate his membership, Rappaport said, “Any police matter is a police matter. I can’t comment on any member’s status…because it’s a privacy issue.” He added, “The Y has a very strict policy regarding anyone who has a criminal history or is a sex offender.” In such cases, the Y “would move to terminate membership for that branch and all Y branches,” he said.
However, in this case, the police have not reached out to the Y, he said, adding, “I have not been contacted by the N.Y.P.D. on any situation in a long time.” He noted that the police “are here a half dozen times on various issues,” and sometimes accompany E.M.T.s if there is a serious sports-related injury or health incident — like shortness of breath — at the Y.
Recently, the Y was having problems with break-ins in the men’s locker room, and hired a security guard to keep an eye on things there.
Asked if, now that The Villager had alerted him of the arrest and given him the accused’s name, the Y would take any action or conduct its own internal investigation, Rappaport said, “Our justice system does say, ‘Innocent until convicted.’ When made aware of that conviction, we would immediately terminate membership. We make every effort to protect the rights of everyone using this facility — and that includes the right of every juvenile child.”
Asked if the father had made a complaint to him or other Y staff, Rappaport said he couldn’t comment, noting, “That’s a very intense and private thing.”
Asked when the planning for construction of the shower stalls occurred, the director initially said it was the summer of 2012, since the summer is when the plan for the facility’s upcoming year is always done. In a later interview, he said the final decision was made in the summer, and when asked to be more specific, said, “April / May / June.”
However, he added in the last interview, “It was already on our to-do list long before the summer. Y upgrades are not driven by any one event but by long-term planning and a dedication to excellence.”
The McBurney Y’s women’s showers have always had dividers and curtains, he added.
However, at least one other Y staff member was aware of the incident. When a Villager reporter, last weekend, asked a McBurney pool lifeguard why the men’s shower stalls were added, the lifeguard’s immediate, first response was to blurt out, “Someone touched someone.” He then went on to talk about what he had heard about the incident and the arrest.
When the reporter subsequently identified himself as such, though, the lifeguard then quickly added that the dividers were put in because they were part of the Y’s original plan — and he didn’t mention the touching incident again.
While it remains an open question what prompted the shower stalls’ installation, there’s no question that the shower curtains are generating some debate.
The longtime Y member cited above noted that he and others don’t like having to brush up against them.
“You have hundreds of people going through,” he complained. “There could be bacteria.”
Another Y member — noting he feels cramped in the small new shower stalls — told The Villager he didn’t like the curtains, either, saying he was concerned about “mold.”
However, Rappaport responded, the curtains are antimicrobial and are changed regularly.
Rappaport added that the Y is due for other upgrades, including new furniture in its upstairs lobby and downstairs lounge areas by this August, and new flooring in these areas by this December or next August.
The Y will also be getting Wi-Fi in its public spaces, he said. The equipment has been installed, but details with Time Warner are being worked out. The signal won’t be accessible in the locker rooms, and inappropriate content will be blocked, in keeping with the Y’s “family friendly” environment, he said.
Full disclosure: This reporter is a McBurney YMCA member.