YMCA overhauls plannedBY ROY WENZL
The Wichita Eagle
Within two years if Greater Wichita YMCA backers do as they say they can do a new $23 million Central Family YMCA will open to replace the decrepit downtown Y.
It will light up downtown at night with a stylish transparent tower, and draw thousands of additional youngsters and other customers to play ball and work out day and night.
And within five years, if they do as they think they can, those same business leaders will raise and spend an additional $17 million expanding three existing Y facilities and building two new facilities in the Wichita metro area.
That will increase from nearly 100,000 to 130,000 the annual number of youngsters at the Ys, and raise considerably the number of gyms and places to play basketball, soccer and recreational sports.
The $40 million will come from money raised from foundations, earned revenue, borrowed money and donations. YMCA board members already have dug into their own pockets and put up $1.4 million to get a new capital campaign started.
There is much at stake with this expansion, YMCA executive director Dennis Schoenebeck said.
The expanded facilities are expected to energize recreation, exercise and day care for youngsters at a time when funding for schools has declined and child obesity and early-onset diabetes have become a nationwide problem.
Business leaders, including Cessna Aircraft chairman emeritus Russ Meyer and real estate developer Steve Clark, revealed the plans and capital campaign last week.
They said the new downtown facility will greatly expand recreation and services to thousands of low-income youngsters and their families. They said that increased services to the poor was a key component of Y expansion plans.
"There simply cannot be a higher priority than to level the playing field and provide a high quality of education and a variety of well-supervised activities for every child in Wichita," Meyer said.
All the planned expansions will not only serve many more young people and families but will constitute "a good investment for all of Wichita," Clark said.
Because of the YMCA's huge successes and membership rolls locally, he and other fundraisers are confident the money will come, that the expansion will be sustainable, and that expansions will occur according to their plan, even though they all acknowledge that the current economy has kept a lot of people out of work.
"Although we discussed the challenge of launching a major campaign like this when the economy is so fragile, I can assure you that everyone associated with this Y campaign is committed to making it successful," Meyer said.
"I know we'll succeed because there are so many generous individuals and companies here who recognize the value of making an investment in the Y."
Meyer, Clark, YMCA board chairman Jim Hattan, and Schoenebeck outlined their plans, branch by branch, this week:
Central Family YMCA
"While all of the Ys currently in operation are serving almost half our population in some form or another, the campaign for a new Central Y has special importance to me because it will be built in such a uniquely perfect location to serve thousands of low-income families within just a 1- or 2-mile radius," Meyer said.
"I believe we can have the same positive impact on kids that we have had with the Opportunity Project, the Boys & Girls Club and the Gordon Parks Academy located at 21st and Opportunity."
Planners and Hattan, the YMCA board chairman, studied downtown demographics in recent years and concluded that though the Greater Wichita YMCAs serve a higher percentage of their area than YMCAs elsewhere, poor people downtown were underserved.
Meyer, who plays handball two or three times a week at the downtown Y, also said the old Y is a decrepit place where lights go out and ice-cold water startles members standing under shower heads.
"The old Y is mostly a disaster, with boilers that go out and a building that's mostly staircases," said Clark, the chairman of the Y's new capital campaign, of the current facility at 402 N. Market. "We want to build a new one that will be not only bigger and much better but will serve all races, all religions and people of all financial abilities."
The building is 50 years old and serves 15,000 members. Hattan and other planners concluded that it serves only about one-third of the kids living within the city's core. They think a new facility will serve twice as many members.
Their studies found that there are 103,000 Wichitans living in 43,800 households within a 3-mile radius of the downtown location. Thirty-one percent of those people have household incomes of $25,000 or less annually. Twenty percent of the radius population is 18 or younger; 39 percent are minorities. About 22,000 people work downtown, the studies showed.
The new building's south wall will rise right next to the old Y's north alleyway canopy, and stretch north along Market all the way to Central. It will encompass 110,000 square feet. It will have a six-lap-to-the-mile indoor running track, two indoor pools, two gymnasiums, three program studios, four racquetball/handball courts and many other facilities: wellness centers, community meeting rooms, locker rooms, Kid Zone drop-in nursery, and offices. It will have 40 full-time employees.
Northwest, at 13838 W. 21st St., was jammed with members and other visitors from the day it opened in 2006; it attracts 100,000 visits a month, 1.2 million visits a year, numbers that dwarf the number of visits to the Sedgwick County Zoo or Wichita's other top attractions.
The current space limits youth sports and wellness programs; those will expand.
Planners will expand the space available by 10,000 square feet.
The cost: $2.5 million
Building the $6 million South YMCA's outdoor and indoor complex worried Meyer before it opened along I-235 in 1999.
"I really wondered whether that was going to work at that location."
He was surprised at the turnout it produced nearly every day since; the South Y serves 5,000 youngsters.
The South Y at 3405 S. Meridian has done so well that planners now want to spend an additional $2 million adding turf fields, parking and lighted baseball fields. They think they can easily bring in another 2,000 to 3,000 kids.
Part of this expansion has already started: a large turf field for soccer and football, reorganized baseball fields and expanded parking will be done by March.
East side, indoor
The Y hasn't found a location for it yet, but they know they need to put another YMCA facility close to where a lot of new houses are going up and where population numbers are increasing.
They want $6 million for a 50,000-square-foot indoor sports center: eight hardwood courts, spectator seating, concession stands and a training center. They think they can serve 5,000 youngsters not currently served by other Y locations.
Planners said they are troubled by national studies showing that most kids stop sports and recreation by age 10, in part because of the popularity of idle pastimes and in part because they've got nowhere to play.
The cost: $6 million
East side, outdoor
No location for this one yet either, but Y planners want to find a good location on the east side of Wichita, preferably one with 50 acres of land for two large turf fields, where they could install a big outdoor complex. It also would include six baseball fields, concession stands and parking.
The cost: $3 million to $5 million
Plans would include expanding the lake, getting more horses for the equestrian program, a new equestrian center, a more scenic camp entrance, expanded walking trails and a new storm shelter. Work already has begun on the pond expansion and storm shelter and should be completed by June 1.
Camp Hyde, a 125-acre camp southwest of Wichita near Viola has served youngsters since 1924. It has horses, a climbing tower, outdoor pool and a lodge. It serves youngsters in the summer and rental groups in the fall and spring.
Expansion cost: $2.5 million to $3 millionReach Roy Wenzl at 316-268-6219 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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