22 Aug 2014
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Darien YMCA Finishes Renovation, Readies for Reopening

Bigger, better and sometimes a bit grand, the Darien YMCA building's $9 million renovation is just about done, and the Y has a "Grand Reopening" set for Sept. 15. Here's a sneak peak at what your new Y looks like.


Some of the rooms are still messy with construction material for the finishing touches, while other rooms seem to be standing around impatiently, arms folded, tapping their feet and waiting for the Darien YMCA building to be officially reopened on Sept. 15.

A tour of the refurbished, rebuilt, renovated Darien Y on Tuesday showed off its church-like entrance hall, a new wing for the Holly Pond Preschool and an utterly gigantic gymnastics gymnasium (neither words nor pictures can really give you the sense of how big this room is).

The gymnastics program will soon be moving back to the Y from its temporary location at Goodwives Shopping Center, where the lease expires on Aug. 31. The gymnasium still has piles of pads waiting to be laid down, and some other finishing touches, but YMCA officials expect it to be ready for opening day.

The gymnasium will have plenty of room for uneven parallel bars, a vaulting runway and floor exercise area, along with safety landing pits filled with pieces of plastic foam, he said.

"We're one of the better YMCA's in the country when it comes to gymnastics," Executive Director Pat Morrissey boasted. "We always rank in the top five each year, and there are over 2,000 YMCA's in the country."

An observation deck looks over the gymnasium. It will be a place where parents can stay and get a good view of how their children are doing, he said.

Holly Pond School

Holly Pond School, a nursery school that serves 318 children either in the morning or afternoon, is now housed in an entirely new wing, after the old wing was torn down. The old wing was a building erected in the 1920s, before the YMCA bought the property from a defunct school in the 1960s.

The separate entrance to the school faces a circlular driveway that is meant to make it easier for parents to pick up and drop off children, Morrissey said. In the floor above the school are the Y's new administrative offices.

The school is the pre-kindergarten nursery school for about one out of every five of the children entering Darien Public Schools kindergarten classes each year, Morrissey said.

Elsewhere in the building

In the long, high entrance hall a small cafe will serve healthy food. The concession is going to Embody Gourmet Fitness, the same business that provides food at Equinox fitness club in Noroton Heights.

"We want to encourage people to hang out and just socialize," Morrissey said.

The main pool, built in 1969, and the shallower Helen M. Ziegler pool upstairs haven't been changed much, and the Training Center upstairs is in use, with its views of Holly Pond.

The wall between the weight room and the downstairs studio has been removed, and on the floor just above, a spin studio and "Mind, Body Studio" for yoga and other programs are ready for use.

Big picture

Currently, the Darien YMCA has 6,000 members, 60 percent of them from Darien, another 20 percent from Stamford, 10 percent from Rowayton or the rest of Norwalk and 10 percent from elsewhere. Many of the out-of-town members are people who work in Darien, he said.

Morrissey pointed out that the Darien YMCA helps out the town in numerous ways —providing programs for children with special needs, providing after-school programs, classes for seniors and even sports programs primarily for girls, like the gymnastics program, helping Darien Public Schools with compliance with federal Title 9 regulations regarding girls sports.

The pool is used by the high school swim teams, he said, and the YMCA basketball program takes place in all the town's public school gymnasiums—a program with 1,600 children participating in it.

The Y doesn't turn away people who can't afford to pay, he said, and last year the organization reduced prices for some members by a total of $325,000.

Down the road

Less than two miles away from the YMCA is the newly built Chelsea Piers Connecticut sports complex, in a building much larger than the YMCA and with facilities in areas the YMCA doesn't cover, such as an indoor football/soccer field, tennis courts, two ice rinks and an Olympics-size swimming pool.

Morrissey said he doesn't know exactly what impact Chelsea Piers will have on the popularity of the Darien YMCA, but he's confident in his own organization's strengths.

The Y, he said, takes steps to make itself a safe environment for kids, with a front desk that has every adult sign in.

The gymnastics program will soon be in a facility that's about as big as the one in Chelsea Piers, he said, and it's got a valuable staff of coaches that have led very successful teams.

"We're more than just a sports club," Morrissey said. "We're a state licensed nursery school; we provide adult fitness programs for seniors, and we have our special needs programming."

Time and money

The renovation project had been planned since about 2007, Morrissey said, and after a long series of hearings before the town Planning & Zoning Commission, which paid close attention to concerns expressed by the neighbors of the Y, construction started in March 2011.

The YMCA hasn't yet raised all the money for the $9 million project, he said. That's because the Y's board decided to go forward quickly in order to take advantage of lower construction costs during the recession.

The Y has raised $3.5 million during its "quiet fundraising campaign" as it searches for larger donations from individual donors, and it used $2 million "in our own resources," Morrissey said. For the rest, it took out a loan.

"We've still got a little ways to go" in raising funds, he said, defining "little" as the second half of the cost of the project. There are still a lot of "outstanding asks to go" among people who might contribute large sums, he said, and "we're confident the public is going to be supportive, particularly when they see the great transformation."


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