YMCA is ‘alive and well’ as ribbon cutting opens renovated facility

Ending a time of symbolic gestures to show the YMCA’s progress, the facility was able to show tangible results this past weekend when the renovated interior was fully shown off to the public.

Less than a year after many town residents felt that the long-delayed renovation of the historic facility would never be completed and months after the wooden staircase outside the building was finally torn down to show how close to the end the process had gotten, the YMCA was ready to show off this past weekend. At a ceremony on Saturday morning, there was a formal ribbon cutting to let people know that the renovation was complete at last and that the YMCA was fully back in business.

“This is us clearing that hurdle of finally finishing the project that started so many years ago,” YMCA CEO Edward Philipp told the Post at the ceremony. “It certainly had its trials and tribulations, so we’re very happy that we’re going to be able to put this all behind us and go forward as an organization.”

Several tours took people through the renovated building on Saturday, highlighting the expanded fitness center and the enhanced meeting spaces to go along with existing draws like the Olympic-sized pool. In addition, there’s a new aerobics studio, an improved spinning studio, new adult locker rooms and showers, an enhanced weight room, elevator service to all floors, which the old building lacked, and expanded child care facilities.

The formal ribbon cutting was done by several Y supporters, including its newest member, 8-month-old Jesse Schinder. Mr. Philipp said that the open house was for people who might not know that the renovation was complete and to quell any remaining doubts about the YMCA still being a viable organization in Greenwich.

“We are alive and well, and we have a lot to offer the community,” Mr. Philipp said. “There’s been a lot of changes that have taken place here, and we want people to come in and give us a look. The message is out there. I’ve been making sure people in the community have heard it. But there are still a lot of people that haven’t heard it that I want to get in front of, and that’s something I’m going to be working on over the next couple of months. We are a vibrant organization here in Greenwich, and we’re looking forward to proving that to the community by providing the programs they need and having the financial aid to assist families in need.”

The ceremony had a lot of political star power behind it. U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and U.S. Rep. Jim Himes (D-4th District), both of whom are town residents and longtime YMCA members, joined First Selectman Peter Tesei, Selectman Dave Theis, Selectman Drew Marzullo, state Sen. L. Scott Frantz (R-36th District), and state Reps. Livvy Floren (R-149th District) and Fred Camillo (R-151st District) for the ceremony, where a lot of memories of the YMCA’s impact on the community were shared along with more than a couple of jokes about swimming in Speedos.

Mr. Tesei recalled taking swimming lessons as a child at the YMCA and said the facility had an integral role in the community.

“This is where families can come and have young people develop into athletes and build strong minds as well as bodies,” Mr. Tesei said. “We’re all grateful for all the folks who endured the long process to get this done. Our hats are off to you. Your perseverance is admired, and we salute you on behalf of our citizens. This building is a wonderful treasure that will be used by people for decades to come.”

Mr. Himes added that everything people had done to reach this milestone was the “height of caring about your community.” Mr. Blumenthal and Mr. Theis talked about their years swimming at the YMCA together in early mornings. Mr. Theis also recalled how coming here as a child and later working for a YMCA in New Haven helped shape his character by showing him people from all walks of life, which Mr. Blumenthal agreed was why YMCAs have become an institution in Greenwich and other communities.

“This building is about a lot more than the dollars and the bricks and mortar,” Mr. Blumenthal said. “It’s about the human lives that it’s changed. If you come here you will see kids whose lives are transformed by this YMCA. And it’s not just this YMCA. It’s YMCAs across the country. I’ve seen a lot of them. They are places where people from widely different ethnic, economic and religious backgrounds all can come and be together and exercise together. The Greenwich community is so enriched by this great facility.”

Mr. Philipp agreed with the senator that the building stood for the community and that it was able to change lives through youth development and teaching healthy living and social responsibility. He said as the stress and pressure of finishing the project became enormous, he could just walk around the building and be re-energized by seeing families having fun together and people challenging themselves. Mr. Philipp recalled meeting with a woman and her child just a few night before.

“She started telling me that when she came here from Boston, ‘This Y really saved me,’” Mr. Philipp said. “She told me, ‘I was going through a rough time. I’d just been divorced and I really needed community in my life. I came here and found it.’ This Y has made such a profound impact on her life, and we have so many great stories like that. That’s what a Y is about. That’s what this Y has done and that’s what we’re going to continue to do in this new vessel.”

WABC-TV meteorologist and Greenwich resident Bill Evans served as master of ceremonies and joked that “my kids learned to swim here and I was the first guy to drown here and be revived, which shows just how needed the YMCA is.” Mr. Evans admitted it was “quite an undertaking” to get here but now the town had a facility that everyone could be proud of.

James Cabrera, chairman of the YMCA’s board, made sure to point out former YMCA CEO John Eikrem in the crowd and thanked him for his work in beginning the planned renovation years ago. He praised him for having a “great vision” to improve the historic building, which was first built in 1916 by the Witherell family.

Mr. Eikrem told the Post that he was proud to see this become a reality after years of fund raising and Planning and Zoning Commission meetings before ground could even be broken, and he gave credit to the late Ted Hodge, who had served on the YMCA’s board, for getting it off the ground. But despite all the delays, Mr. Eikrem said, he never doubted this day would come.

“I think the YMCA is in excellent hands now, and I’m very excited about its future,” Mr. Eikrem said.

When Mr. Cabrera first took over the board, the YMCA was losing more than a million dollars, with the construction stopped and debt mounting. But with continued community support and a timely loan, the YMCA was able to regain its footing and complete the renovation. Both Mr. Cabrera and Sandra Waters were singled out for their contributions on the board and moving the process forward. Mr. Frantz said they were able to bring the YMCA “back from the abyss.”

“This is not just a building,” Mr. Frantz said. “This is a community spirit of family, and thanks to the help of people like Jim and Sandra and everyone else, it’s able to come screaming back.”

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