Fire sensors keep going off about every five seconds at the Brainerd Family YMCA, but CEO Shane Riffle ignores them or has grown accustomed to the malfunctioning fire detection system.

He’s got bigger problems — including the nonprofit’s insurance agency refusing to pay for repairs of damage at the Y’s facility caused by the July 17 severe thunderstorm.

“I was actually on the phone with one of our Y members who’s an attorney,” discussing legal options, Riffle said Thursday, July 23, from the YMCA. “The insurance company denied our — they said that this storm damage is not insurable. And we think they’re wrong.”

RELATED: Brainerd YMCA faces severe water damage from downpour

The several inches of downpour Friday night caused the building’s drop ceiling to fall down, and water came rushing in and flooded the structure on Oak and South Sixth streets.

Michigan Millers Insurance denied the organization’s claim. The cost to repair the YMCA’s facility was estimated to be $150,000.

“We’re gathering information — gathering some, I guess, reports from a roofing company who is here who thinks differently as well,” Riffle said.

Storm damage

The Brainerd Family YMCA reopened its doors last month after temporarily closing because of the coronavirus, but the downtown structure suffered major damage in Friday’s storm.

“We at least got the horn strobe turned off, the one that, you know, it’s like the siren that gets everybody’s attention. That was for, half a day, that was going off. And we finally figured that out, how to disarm it. It’s a trouble alert,” Riffle said.

Nor-Son Inc., a local construction company, inspected the water damage and estimated how much it would cost to restore the YMCA to its original state, according to Riffle.

RELATED: Friday storm damages YMCA, floods streets

“It would have been the repairs or replacement to that Studio One floor,” Riffle said of the location for many of the group fitness classes. “It would have been the drywall, the paint, the base molding, the fire alarm system, the restoration cleanup and some electrical work.”

The Brainerd Family YMCA reopened its doors June 10 as a fitness center for the first time since March 17.

“We were still hoping for early next week to open, you know, just do that bare-bones amount of work that would need to be done to have it open,” Riffle said. “This is going to be out-of-pocket money at the moment.”

The Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport received 3.29 inches of rain between about 10 p.m. July 17 and 4 a.m. Saturday, July 18. In the days after, Michigan Millers Insurance’s representative told Riffle what the Lansing, Michigan-based insurance company’s position was about the organization’s claim, or lack of one, according to the insurance company.

“Generally, he said that what they do cover is damage directly caused by the storm, such as lightning, hail, wind or a tree falling on your property,” Riffle said.

Insurance claim denied

Michigan Millers is a mutual insurance company that offers products and services to protect businesses exclusively through its independent insurance agency partners in Michigan, New York, Minnesota and Washington, according to its website.

“I advised that based on the verbal report … there being no evidence of wind damage or other sudden physical damage to the roof that caused the water entry, I did not expect there to be coverage for the YMCA loss,” according to the email Riffle received from the insurance agency.

“My heart sank,” Riffle said. “When I heard that, you know, what popped into my mind was that $150,000 number, and how the heck are we going to be able to restore the building and go on? So my first thought was the Y was done.”

The organization offered day care services in March following school closures due to the growth of the coronavirus cases. The part of the YMCA’s facilities that houses its licensed day care was spared, so it remains open, according to Riffle, unlike its other programs.

“It’s just a really unclear path right now,” Riffle said. “And we’re eating through any reserves, which are already very small, but we’re eating through those fast because we’re providing services that the community needs.”

The community, however, is prepared to support the YMCA, Riffle said. That was especially obvious during a Monday board meeting.

“Everyone stood up and said Brainerd needs a YMCA, the community needs a YMCA, and we’re not going to let them down, and we’re going to make sure that we’re here. We’re not going to close our doors,” Riffle said. “That was actually inspiring for me.”

Riffle said he is considering starting the nonprofit’s annual fundraising campaign early because of the storm damage and even a capital campaign, which was looked at before the pandemic.

“Our thinking now is that we’ve realized that this building does not and will not meet our needs of the future. … We need to do something now that’s going to allow us to do that. And it’s probably going to mean a capital campaign,” Riffle said.

The Brainerd Family YMCA raised about $30,000 in its latest annual fundraising campaign, which was a virtual one this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’re still operating … but we’re running on fumes,” Riffle said.

How to help

To make a tax-deductible donation to the Brainerd Family YMCA, visit, or write checks payable to “Brainerd Family YMCA” with “disaster relief” written in the memo line and send them to the Brainerd Family YMCA, 602 Oak St., Brainerd, MN 56401.

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at Follow him on Twitter at