Hard hat tours being offered at new YMCA

Published 12:11 pm Thursday, May 18, 2006

By By ANDY HAMILTON / Niles Daily Star
NILES - Everything is on schedule.
Executive Director of the Niles-Buchanan YMCA Bret Hendrie said the new building on Front Street should open before 2007. And, the cost to complete the 56,000 square foot facility is expected to remain below the allotted $8.15 million.
Progress on the building's shell has been easy to follow. Thanks to an unusually mild winter, the outer walls are completely covered in brick and the general design of the 8.5-acre property has been taking shape for months. But, a hard hat tour of the guts of the facility provides a more complete vision of the final product.
Hendrie starts the tour on the north side of the building at the future location of the circle drive, where all visitors will eventually enter the ‘Y'. Inside the entrance and to left is where the chapel will rest. The room, which will soon hold a pair of stained glass windows, was designed to take on an addition in the future.
As the summer of 2004 came to a close, Hendrie and the YMCA board were notified the budget was around $2 million short. Due to the increase in cost of steel and concrete, Hendrie said they were forced to re-design parts of the original blueprints, including the proposed second gymnasium and the size of the chapel.
On the opposite side of the entrance is the 5,000 square foot wing that will house the Lakeland Regional Health Systems rehabilitation center. The local health care company has signed a lease with the YMCA to occupy the northwest corner of the building for the next 20 years.
Separating the chapel and the Lakeland nook is the main hallway. The area is designed with sky-scraping ceilings to accommodate the street lamps that will be installed to light the path, Hendrie said. Also lining the upper walls of the lobby will be a large, framed-in mural taken from the current ‘Y'.
Furniture for the lobby will come from cash generated at a Sept. 23 black tie evening with Lakeland. Hendrie said the Niles YMCA organization has already raised $3.5 million, but “will continually be in some kind of fundraising mode.”
Hendrie continues past a table saw and some scaffolding. Passing the child and infant care center, he arrives at the ‘Y's cavernous fitness center - the heart of the facility. Some of the ground floors here have already been laser-leveled and paved.
This is the area of the building most visible to those passing by on Front Street. Hendrie said the large arch that provides a view of the St. Joseph River is intended to replicate the arches on the Main Street bridge running through downtown Niles and up to the current YMCA.
South of the 7,000 square foot fitness center lies the gymnasium, which is twice the size of the court at 315. W. Main St.
Circling above and around the fitness center and gym is the elevated running track. Members will be able to access the track by a pair of stairwells or on a short trip up the elevator. The distance of the new track - one-tenth of a mile - is also a considerable upgrade compared to the current facility.
Nestled into the south end of the building is the “wet area,” which will house locker rooms, showers and both pools. The smaller pool is designated for Lakeland rehabilitation and will remain at a constant 94 degrees. The main pool runs north and south with a row of half-circle windows lining it's west wall.
Aside from the setback in 2004, work on the new ‘Y' has continued with “minimal problems”, and Hendrie said he meets with construction managers every two weeks to discuss the progress of the building.
The community will have a chance at their own close-up view of the new YMCA starting Tuesday. Hendrie said hard hat tours for the public will be held every month until the facility opens. Those interested are asked to call the ‘Y' to get on a tour list at (269) 683-1552.