Downtown Y Rehab Spurs Community Growth

After completing phase one of the Downtown YMCA reconstruction during the summer of 2017, directors hope to finish the entire project, including phase two renovations, by January of 2018. During January there will be a second open house during which community members are invited to view and enjoy the finished product of a multi-million dollar reconstruction and renovation. All of the funding came from community donations, and helped make it possible to create a state-of-the-art facility right here in Oshkosh. Branch Executive Director Lester Millette is in charge of leading and directing the staff at the Y, and he is currently involved with the construction of phase two. He was working with the YMCA before the work began and can attest to its necessity.
“The building was built in 1962 and there were many problems mechanically with it, like our heating and cooling units, air conditioning, water,” he said. “We had a boiler from 1962, and it was a big, old and inefficient boiler. Our pools were also growing older and there were some cracks in the concrete of the pool.”
Active Older Adults Engagement Director Siri Smits also saw the necessity of an update to the Downtown YMCA.
“The old building really wasn’t meeting the community’s needs anymore on the downtown side of Oshkosh,” she said. “The new building is for everyone; if you see the inside of the building, there are a lot of community gathering spaces. It just really pulls together the sense of the Oshkosh Downtown Y and the Oshkosh Community Y.”
The reconstruction of the Y included a new aquatic facility, a two-level health and wellness center, brand new locker rooms including a family locker room, a track, three new fitness centers, and green spaces on the exterior of the Y. These new additions have intrigued community members such as senior Cassie Laibly, as she explored what the Downtown YMCA now has to offer.
“I think the new track is going to be a huge part of the new YMCA,” she said. “It is a lot bigger than the old one and it is a lot better on the knees in my opinion. It is very open and gives more people a place to run.”
The track was a main part of the project and Y members find this addition to be beneficial in their workout routines. Math teacher and Y member Ami Messner finds the track helpful in freeing up space to use the treadmills.
“I like the track that they have, I think that was a great addition and it seems like less of the treadmills are taken up then because people can walk on the track, so it is easier to jump on a treadmill if you want to run,” she said.  
Although the phase one reconstruction is complete, phase two is still being finished and will be finalized in January of 2018. In the phase two renovations the basketball gym will be completed and will have a new heating and cooling system. There will also be new administration offices, a multi-purpose room, a hot yoga studio, an inter-generational room and a teaching kitchen.
“We are also going to have a teaching kitchen which is super cool and I’m excited to see how that will be utilized,” Smits said. “We also have a nutritionist at the YMCA now, which is something new, and I’m hoping that the teaching kitchen and nutritionist will go hand and hand.”
Although the YMCA is typically centered around workouts and exercise, administration recognizes that aspects such as nutrition and unity are also important in creating a healthy community environment.
“I think, while the YMCA is an exercise- driven building, there is the fireplace lounge where people can sit together and talk and bring the community together and that is what the YMCA is all about, bringing people together for exercise reasons and togetherness,” Laibly said.
In order to gain more members, the Downtown Y advertised a special membership, which helped to increase membership from last year.
“We ran an October special, and last year we had 56 sign up, but this year we had 197 or something like that,” Millette said. “So just in that promotion alone we had almost 150 more people sign up. So we are seeing a lot more people in our facility, we are seeing our parking lot full, we are seeing a lot more people coming, swimming and taking classes.”
With the increase in membership, the amount of youth now attending the Y is apparent to current members.
“I think it drew in a younger crowd, and when I am there now I feel like I see a younger crowd of people,” Messner said. “I think they also have more studios and also a lot more classes, so I see a lot more people going to the classes, versus the old Y where I don’t even know where they held some of that stuff.”
The newer members that have now presented themselves at the Downtown Y has been a slight surprise to YMCA administration since the university offers a facility nearby.
“I think our young adult membership has increased which is really cool since we are obviously competing with the UWO Recreation Center,” Smits said. “And to see that, that is increasing, you know people are coming to the Y.”
Not only has the Y drawn in the younger generation of Oshkosh’s population, but it has also provided an opportunity for the surrounding area to expand and develop. Inspired by the Downtown Y renovations, the Eagle’s Club, neighboring houses and the road nearby are all being renovated.
“The Eagle’s Club across the street is getting all redone and renovated; it’s going to be a hall again for weddings and shows and there will be a cafe, the bowling lane will be opened up,” Millette said. “The houses across the street from us are being sold and rebuilt and so there is going to be some new housing across the street from us. So we are already seeing our neighborhood change, starting with the renovation of the Y downtown.”
By encouraging the development of the surrounding area, the Downtown Y not only embraces its ideal of improving the community, but also draws in more members. Oshkosh is home to two different and multifaceted YMCAs with the Downtown Y now being a state-of-the-art facility. Smits believes that this is something that adds to the YMCA membership for those in the community.
“That’s another thing that enhances people’s membership, that we have all these really cool services,” she said. “When the new building is complete we are going to have all these really neat things that really encompass community and bringing people together.”

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