What would you do?

By Paul Chason

I have been asked a number of times, “Why did you choose to eliminate the basketball court at the YMCA?”

A great question, I think it is time to share with the community a number of challenges faced by the YMCA that occur because we reside in a 91 year-old facility.

First, we had very little choice in the transition of the basketball court to the current fitness center – it was out of necessity. Multiple floor joists in the “old” fitness center failed which created a significant safety hazard for all our patrons. The fitness center and the “free” weight area were NOT SAFE for our patrons.

The reality, in the south wing just past the double hallway doors – the entire floor is unsafe for active use. We have cautiously transitioned this area into a storage space. The first floor, south wing area is essentially dead for traffic and use by the YMCA until major renovation occurs.

The ripple effects were significant. The free weights had to relocate in addition to the relocation of the pin weights and cardio equipment. WHERE? What areas inside the YMCA were available quickly with the least impact to operations, service for patrons, and with minimal cost? The first floor was the only logical location because of considerations for weight loading on the floors, and for ease of access by our patrons. How could we accomplish this effort and improve the quality of services with minimal costs?

We decided to transition the “old” conference center into the Child Watch area. The new location was larger, still centrally located and was not fully utilized for its intended role. The “old” nursery offered a solution to the free weight area. Slightly smaller than the south wing location, it was a viable, workable option.

Challenges – the appearance of the conference room was not conducive to the new role of Child Watch, the same was true of the new free weight area. I mean who wanted to work out with children’s nursery pictures on the walls? Enter LOWES COMMUNITY HEROES, and their 13 volunteers who led the painting efforts for the Child Watch and new free weight area. They also helped paint multiple first floor hallway areas. The YMCA also thanks the community volunteers who helped with this major effort.

The staff relocated equipment from the fitness center into the gym after we received mats to help protect the floor coverings from the equipment. The equipment relocation occurred during the weekend, with minimal impact to operations and to our patrons. Since the relocation and with outstanding support from various benefactors, we increased our equipment compliment to serve you, our community, better. However, the appearance was horrible. The “old” stage with its holes in the ceiling, the unstable floor, boarded up windows and the dry rotted curtain was not conducive to a welcoming environment.

Stage refurbishment was mandated. How could we transition the space to provide a return on investment? What changes could make the area useable while creating a new experience for our patrons?

Timing is everything! Thanks to Grace Fellowship and the “Love Thy Neighbor” initiative, a plan to get the ball rolling happened! Grace Fellowship provided the “muscle” to rip down the curtain, the old wood, and to remove plaster from the bricks. Temporarily, curtain off the stage with a tarp to improve the fitness center appearance! Next, hire a local contractor to repair the ceiling, the floor, and to replace the windows. When construction was completed, a staff member repainted the stage ceiling, walls, windows, and floor. Purchase matting and “different” equipment for a new fitness opportunity. The YMCA added pull-up bars, medicine balls, wall ball area, heavy and speed bags, and a peg-board along with “warrior” ropes. The transition of the stage provided multiple new fitness activities and significantly improved the overall appearance in the fitness center.

A long-winded response to, “Why did you choose to eliminate the basketball court at the YMCA?” Simply put, the changes made were required to continue serving our community without interruption. These steps were our only viable options.

We understand – what comes next? The YMCA needs to continue membership growth to improve our fiscal posture, and become more self-sustainable. Continued growth presents a new set of challenges – how many new members can we gain before reaching capacity with our current arrangement? What options are available to plan and create opportunity for continued growth?

The YMCA continues to have facility challenges as expected in an almost 100-year-old building. We continue to seek methods to repair building failures, and to improve opportunities to serve our community with each facility enhancement. In addition to the flooring needs in the first floor south wing, the first floor women’s bathroom requires new windows. The second floor men’s bathroom is shut down and unusable because all the plumbing and fixtures need repair / replacement. The south-facing window in the bathroom is rotten beyond repair and requires replacement. All the windows in the “multi-purpose room” AKA the “old library” require replacement. The windows leak during our thunderstorms leaving puddles on the floor. The frames have rusted away and have multiple cracked panes throughout.

What would you do if you could make changes to our facility? These suggestions assume the option of enhancing our almost 100-year-old “Old High School” rather than giving up. Listing is not in priority order, just brainstorming enhancement ideas.

* Replace the “old south wing fitness” center and weight room floor with an on grade concrete slab. Redesign air conditioning and electrical layout to eliminate under floor service. Replace the windows. Make this the NEW FREE weight area. Change creates a larger space, without worrying about weight loading on the floor.

* Transition the “Old free weight area” into a women’s locker room / shower. Transition the “kitchen area” by the “old library” into a men’s locker room / shower.

* Remove the wall between the current group exercise room and free weight areas, stabilize / level the floor, relocate the air handler unit, this new area becomes a larger group fitness area.

* Replace the windows throughout the facility as needed.

* Replace various doors to meet current fire codes, ensure applicable “panic” hardware installed.

* Install multiple heat pumps to replace aged / missing units.

* Redesign / refurbish upstairs aerobics room to create a dedicated “dance” room
These practical changes provide growth opportunity, increase organizational capacity, improve quality of service, and create more usable space. Understand, these ideas are not the only significant construction required to maintain our current facility. Work is required in the current fitness center.

Membership and program revenue alone will never create the funds needed for facility improvements. In order to consider significant changes for our YMCA to improve services and capacity, we must first create a sustainable, recurring revenue stream. We must investigate multiple funding options beyond annual giving campaigns, capital improvement campaigns, and recurring business donations. We are very, very thankful and fortunate our community has supported the YMCA thus far and look forward to continued long-term positive relationships.

I continue to consider: How do we create a sustainable means to improve our YMCA facility, sustain operations, and to have community-donated funds available to create new, affordable program opportunities for everyone in the community? What are your ideas? As a community, what are your thoughts on creating a long-term, sustainable revenue stream?

What would you do?

Paul Chason is CEO of the Atmore Area YMCA.