Community

Long time coming, bigger regional YMCA nears in Marion

Work could start this fall on new site in Marion

The front elevation of the planned new regional YMCA in Marion is shown in a rendering (Illusration from Marion YMCA)
The front elevation of the planned new regional YMCA in Marion is shown in a rendering (Illusration from Marion YMCA)
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MARION — A nearly decadelong quest to build a regional YMCA and recreational center is about to pay off, officials with the Y and city of Marion say — but with a new location in mind.

Zach Bohannon, project manager for the Regional YMCA of Marion, has spent the past 18 months working on plans to build a $19.5 million regional YMCA facility along Tower Terrace Road in Marion. The facility — which represents a unique partnership between the organization and city — would replace the community’s undersized, 55-year-old Y.

“We’re on the cusp of this being a reality,” Bohannon said.

With acquisition of a new site in the works, Bob Carlson, president and chief executive officer of YMCA of the Cedar Rapids Metro Area, said the future building would address a need for more space identified more than 15 years ago.

“Not just in Marion, but the surrounding communities, we’ve been working on this thing for a long time. It’s time now that we get this built,” Carlson said.

BIGGER AND BETTER

Built in 1963, the Marion Y at 3100 10th Ave. has been showing its age for years, said branch director Sarah Hoeger.

Hoeger has been with the YMCA for 12 years, spending the last three at the Marion facility.

When built, Marion’s population was about 11,000. That has since more than tripled to more than 36,000.

The 35,000-square-foot building has one full-size basketball court, a six-lane lap pool, small fitness center and a multipurpose room.

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“That keeps us very limited for classes. Any meeting space or gathering space, we don’t have that in this facility,” Hoeger said.

The lack of space not only limits the options for activities for the center’s roughly 3,100 members, but the building is severely lacking in accessibility, she added.

The locker room connected to the pool is accessible only beyond a flight of stairs, forcing some patrons to use the lobby restrooms as a changing room, she said.

The new space — planned to be more than twice the size of the current building — will be disability-accessible and boast several new or larger amenities, including three full-size basketball courts, two racquetball courts, more than 7,000 square feet of fitness space, a leisure pool and six-lane lap pool, a running track and healthy living cafe.

Hoeger said the new YMCA, which will operate as a regional facility serving not just Marion but other communities such as Hiawatha and northern Cedar Rapids, should draw more members.

“We’ll have more things to offer in the new facility, things that people are looking for that we are limited from doing here,” Hoeger said.

Hoeger did add that closing the long-standing Marion YMCA is bittersweet for some members.

“People are excited about it. They’re looking forward to having new things, but some are afraid that maybe they’ll lose the neighborhood feeling. We’re trying to let them know the Y is not going to change because we go to a new facility,” she said.

LONG TIME COMING

Carlson said an assessment conducted about 15 years ago identified the demand for a larger YMCA for Marion and the surrounding communities.

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Formal discussions on a new Y began more than a decade ago, but — as with many area projects — the 2008 flood pushed planning back, Bohannon said.

Meanwhile, Marion’s plans for a new fitness facility arose from a 2009 community visioning process, Imagine8.

Over time, both efforts began to align. The YMCA needed a new facility, while Marion was interested in adding a recreation center.

“It’s really not common at all. Most YMCAs operate off on their own and most rec centers operate on their own. ... We just felt we had an opportunity to take advantage of that uniqueness. We felt this was an ideal opportunity for both partners to come together and be major stakeholders,” Bohannon said.

Thanks to the YMCA/Marion partnership, the facility will provide space for Marion Parks and Recreation programming, Bohannon said.

Ultimately, the city agreed to commit $6.5 million to the project, becoming its largest donor.

But some on the City Council expressed concern that the proposed site, near Tower Terrace Road and Winslow Road, is partially on a 100-year flood plain. Organizers instead are closing in on a new location farther west, near Tower Terrace and Irish Road.

The preliminary plat application for the project was submitted Tuesday. If the project is approved, site work could begin after crops are out this fall, with a potential project completion date in late 2019 or early 2020, Bohannon said.

City Manager Lon Pluckhahn described the new facility as a great amenity for Marion and nearby communities.

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What’s more, the planned Tower Terrace Road interchange with Interstate 380 — which could begin as soon as next year — should turn the road into a major corridor for commercial and residential development.

Chart by John McGlothlen / The Gazette

“I think for us it’s starting to get exciting, we’ve been working on this for so long,” Pluckhahn said.

In addition to the city, other large donations have included a $2 million Hall-Perrine Foundation matching grant, $500,000 from Farmer’s State Bank, $250,000 from Scheels, $200,000 from Armstrong Trust and a $105,000 joint contribution from Linn County REC/CIPCO.

Bohannon said fundraising efforts still are underway — including searching for a naming-rights sponsor. He said the capital campaign is in the quiet phase, and fundraising will be rolled out to the general public in the coming months.

Bohannon said securing the new site, more than 7 acres of farmland, was a bit of a surprise. Property owners Curt and Barbara Gill had declined three previous offers to buy the land. Now, the agreement could save the YMCA about $1 million.

The Gills, who now live near Grand Rapids, Minn., grew up in Marion. The land near Tower Terrace Road had been in the family since 1856, Curt Gill said.

While previous requests to sell the land were denied, Curt Gill said something seemed to click about a new Y.

In 1965, when the Marion YMCA was new and Curt Gill was in seventh grade at Linn-Mar, he and a friend heard about a free-throw contest at the Y.

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Curt Gill would go on to win the contest, winding up being pictured in the March 23, 1965, edition of The Gazette.

The Gills said while they never were full members of the local YMCA, they went there regularly for sock hop dances, basketball games or swimming lessons for their children.

Curt Gill said the project “just felt right.”

“It wasn’t an epiphany or anything like that,” he said. “When the Y was suggested, it just seemed like the timing was right.”

What’s in store?

The current Marion YMCA has:

• 35,000 square feet of space

• One regulation football-size outdoor field

• One full-size basketball court

• Six-lane lap pool

• Less than 1,500 square feet of fitness space

The new Regional YMCA of Marion will have:

• 75,000 square feet of space

• Two regulation football-size outdoor fields

• Three full-size basketball courts

• Two racquetball courts

• Healthy living cafe

• Leisure pool

• Six-Lane lap pool

• Hot tub, capacity for 12

• Running track

• More than 7,000 square feet of fitness space

l Comments: (319) 398-8309; mitchell.schmidt@thegazette.com

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