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Illinois YMCA Could See Major Renovations

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The State Journal- Register (Springfield, IL)

 

Major renovations or a replacement could be in store for Springfield's downtown branch of the YMCA.

The board of directors has contracted with the Springfield-based firm of FWAI Architects Inc. to study the structural health of the existing two-story, 88,000- square-foot building at 701 S. Fourth St.

Results of the study are expected to be presented to the board by the end of March, Springfield YMCA chief executive officer Angie Sowle said Friday.

That information could lead to more study and discussion about whether improvements should be made to the 55-year-old building or whether the site should be abandoned and a new building constructed on the same site or elsewhere in the downtown area, she said.

"We are 100 percent committed to staying in the downtown service area," Sowle, the Y's top administrator since 2013, told The State Journal-Register.

The Springfield YMCA, a tax-exempt, not-for-profit organization with an annual budget of $5.7 million, opened its Kerasotes branch in September 2011 at 4550 W. Iles Ave. on the city's west side.

That one-story, 60,000-square-foot facility cost $18 million to build. It includes a 10,000-square-foot branch of Memorial Health System's SportsCare program. Memorial pledged $8 million toward the total cost of the Kerasotes facility.

"There really was a promise and a commitment to the community that doing something to the downtown facility itself would be next in line," Sowle said.

Crowded, inefficient

The Springfield YMCA has 17,000 members, with 10,500 based at the downtown branch and the other 6,500 at Kerasotes, though members can use either facility, she said. An additional 15,000 non-members participate in Y programs each year.

The YMCA serves about 2,400 children annually, and almost all of the Y's youth programs are based at the downtown branch, Sowle said.

Local YMCA membership has been growing in recent years, and the downtown building, constructed in 1962 for $1.75 million, can feel overcrowded in the summer, when 400 children a week participate in summer camps, Sowle said.

The downtown Y's fitness areas often are crowded from January through April, she said, and the building's inefficient heating and air-conditioning system can lead to complaints that the building is too hot or too cold.

The swimming lessons, family activities and recreational classes, as well as programs for people with special needs, make the Y's offerings broader than what is available at most for-profit health clubs, Sowle said.

The Y makes financial assistance available to lower-income families and individuals so they can afford memberships and participation fees. For example, about $411,000 from the Y's Strong Kids Fund was spent in 2015 to benefit 3,000 people, Sowle said.

Kevin England, president of the YMCA's board of directors, said the downtown building "is starting to show its age." There are no overarching problems that need immediate attention, he said, but the building needs to be upgraded or replaced.

"I don't think we can get away with doing nothing," said England, vice president of business development for Memorial Health System.

Partnerships sought

The FWAI study won't examine the feasibility of constructing a new building elsewhere downtown, Sowle said. Such a decision would require more examination, but England said YMCA officials probably will decide by the end of 2017 whether to focus their attention and resources on a renovation project or a new building.

Sowle added: "Whatever we decide to do, we would have to have the knowledge that that was the right step for us to take. And this is the first step in that."

Potential structural improvements in the current downtown location, and the ability of the space to accommodate the YMCA's vision for future programs, will be analyzed by FWAI, Sowle said.

"What does it need if we stay there for five years?" she asked. "What does it need if we stay there for 10 years? What does it need if we stay there for 20 years? Not just facility, like renovation and upkeep, but visions for programming. … Can we do it from that location? And if so, what's it going to cost?"

YMCA officials already have begun to talk with officials at Memorial Medical Center and HSHS St. John's Hospital about how those institutions might assist the Y financially in whatever path the organization takes downtown, she said.

The YMCA would try to establish such partnerships with as many people and organizations as possible, Sowle said.

"That's the way to have a successful fund drive," she said.

Sowle said she is open to suggestions from the public about the downtown branch and can be reached at 544-9846 or asowle@springfieldymca.org

'Really convenient'

The downtown branch, at Fourth and Cook streets, was the third downtown site for the Young Men's Christian Association since the local Y was founded in 1874.

YMCA officials are aware that many members feel a strong loyalty to the current downtown building, Sowle said.

Many state workers and other people employed downtown work out there before or after work, or during their lunch hours, she said. The downtown branch is especially busy when the General Assembly is in session, she added.

Nadine Kreft lives in the Mason County community of Easton but exercises at the downtown branch, a short walk from her workplace at the Illinois Department of Employment Security, during her lunch hours.

"It's really convenient for me, so I hope they keep it here," said Kreft, 67.

She said she is satisfied with the facility. "It doesn't bother me at all," she said.

Longtime YMCA member Bill Warren, 57, of Springfield said he mainly uses the fitness areas of the downtown branch and likes the camaraderie and friendly atmosphere there.

"They just need to update this place," said Warren, a disabled former salesman.

 

- Contact Dean Olsen: dean.olsen@sj-r.com, 788-1543, twitter.com/DeanOlsenSJR.

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