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YMCA plans new facility ; * Y aims to raise $10 million, find medical partner
J. PHILIP BLOOMER News-Gazette Staff Writer. News Gazette [Champaign, Ill] 22 Sep 2002: A-1 A-3.
CHAMPAIGN – The Champaign County YMCA is preparing to launch a drive for a $10 million building on 12 acres in southwest Champaign, the biggest initiative in the venerated organization’s 75-year history of service to the county.
The new building represents the first phase of a 20-year plan that will eventually include replacement of most of the headquarters on Church Street.
“The YMCA’s been talking for 20 years about the need for a new facility,” said Executive Director Wade Hampton, who took over the Y in 2000. “Lots of things happened in that time, some with promise, but it didn’t work out. Now is the time to make it work.”
The YMCA is working on securing a medical partner for the southwest Champaign site, a partner that will assist the organization in its focus on wellness and youth fitness. The 12 acres has been committed by a landowner the YMCA is not prepared to name at this time, Hampton said.
The 76,000-square-foot facility will include a double gymnasium, a gymnastics center, a pool, four locker rooms, weight-training room and 10,000 square feet reserved for the medical partner. Hampton said the Y is prepared to proceed with or without the medical partner.
More importantly, Wade said, the building will incorporate intangibles that are the basis for the Y’s existence: the values of honesty, caring, respect and responsibility – words that adorn practically every brochure, pin and wall of the Y.
“These are the things we stand for. They’re part of our Christian heritage. Unlike so many secular institutions, we don’t run from that,” Hampton said.
On the physical wellness side, an important goal for the Y is reaching “the deconditioned market,” or those, particularly youth, at risk of endangering lifelong health because of poor eating and exercise habits.
Hampton, board President Mark Ballard and others said they have every confidence the community will support the Y’s efforts.
“The Y is one of the few institutions that gets the whole idea of inclusiveness,” Ballard said. “People from across the community gather there, all ages, all races and socioeconomic levels, together in a place where they can interact and grow as people.
“It is also one of the most deeply rooted institutions in this town,” he said. “Everybody’s had a connection with the Y at one time or another, through swim lessons, gymnastics, Indian guides, Gray-Y basketball or something.”
One of those people is Tracy Parsons, president of the Urban League of Champaign County and an active Y member who has been talking to Hampton about collaborative arrangements with the league.
“There’s a camaraderie there that’s important to me,” Parsons said. “The Y has a long history of providing that. It’s time they had a first-class facility to showcase those values even more.”
In 1927, U.S. Sen. William McKinley left a $200,000 gift to start a YMCA in Champaign-Urbana, along with a $100,000 endowment. Several years later, the Y was able to purchase the Church Street mansion and convert it to a YMCA facility.
Since 1997, the YMCA also has been leasing space at 707 N. Country Fair Drive to house gymnastics and other programs for its growing membership, now some 3,100 people.
Frank Burns, executive director of the YMCA from 1957 to 1975, is living testament to the Y’s wellness lessons. At 85, he’s blind in one eye but still works out regularly at the Y and plays doubles tennis. “Nobody minds but my partners,” he said.
“Really, though, this is a great institution. The community can afford to do this if it wants,” he said.
Hampton said the 20-year plan devised by the board allows the Y to meet the demands of a growing membership while still maintaining a presence in the core of downtown. The question of whether to save the Church Street building or build entirely new has split the board as well as the Y’s constituency in the past.
The new plan achieves both ends.
The new facility would allow the Y to serve its existing membership better and give it room to grow. Some 45 percent of the Y’s budget is driven by membership. About 3 percent of the community now belongs to the YMCA. That percentage should be 6 percent, he said.
At the same time, Hampton said that last year, 1,562 people received some form of financial aid to participate in Y programs.
“In a world that continues to segregate itself in various ways, the Y is one of the frontiers where we bring together people from every walk of life,” he said. “When they walk in that door, we don’t know who they are or where they came from. We don’t show you pictures of poor kids in our brochures to prove our progressiveness; we just show you kids.”
The long-range plan shows that once the new facility is done, the Y will turn its attention to the Church Street location. The plan is to demolish all of the old building but the pool, and retain some of the old architectural elements in a new structure.
The new Church Street building would be oriented to teen activities, though open to all members. It would include meeting and recreational space, a computer room, cafe and a stage. A coed workout room, locker rooms and a gym are among the other amenities.
With the Church Street location a block away from Champaign Central High School and midway between two middle schools, Hampton said it makes sense to capitalize on youth interests, particularly after school and on weekends. The Y already has a long relationship with Central. It stores equipment there and lets athletes use its facilities.
Champaign schools Superintendent Arthur Culver said he’s agreeable to examining the possibilities with Hampton, especially in connection with Central’s space needs, but that facilities needs should be evaluated in the context of the entire district.
“If there’s any way we can utilize space that’s in the best interests of the children and cost-effective for the district, we’d be happy to explore the possibilities,” Culver said.
Added Champaign school board member David Sholem: “Speaking as one board member, I think there are opportunities for the Y and the high school to work more closely together.
“As far as this whole initiative by the Y, if anybody can do it, Wade can. I wouldn’t bet against him.”