Government

Years in the making, YMCA breaks ground in Marion

$2M in donations still needed toward $20M regional facility

Kids are invited to take a turn throwing dirt during Wednesday’s groundbreaking for a new YMCA in Marion. The groundbreaking marks a milestone for the regional facility, which has been under discussion more than a decade. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
Kids are invited to take a turn throwing dirt during Wednesday’s groundbreaking for a new YMCA in Marion. The groundbreaking marks a milestone for the regional facility, which has been under discussion more than a decade. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
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MARION — The YMCA will begin an “aggressive” $2 million fundraising campaign after breaking ground Wednesday on a new facility that has been over a decade in the making.

The city of Marion agreed earlier this year to provide $7.3 million for the new regional YMCA, an “unprecedented” contribution, said Bob Carlson, YMCA president and chief executive officer.

The total cost of the facility that will be under construction at 3740 Irish Drive in Marion is $20 million. Construction will proceed while the YMCA works on raising the last portion of the capital campaign.

“Is this finally happening?” Marion Mayor Nick AbouAssaly asked at the groundbreaking. “I think this is the most anticipated event in Marion.”

The rest of the project was funded through grants and donations.

Gene Neighbor, whose family gave a half-million dollars to the project in 2016, said the donation was an easy decision.

His father was involved in the groundbreaking ceremony for the YMCA that had opened on 10th Avenue in Marion in the 1960s.

That’s 58 years of affiliation with the YMCA, Neighbor said.

In September, the city also was awarded a $400,000 Community Attraction and Tourism grant from the Iowa Economic Development Authority for the YMCA.

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The facility could be open as early as December 2020, said Shannon Brendengen, marketing director for the YMCA.

An initial location for the YMCA was identified at the corner of Tower Terrace Road and Winslow Road — but that’s partially on a 100-year flood plain.

Instead, land was secured on Irish Drive, about a half mile from the initial site. It was purchased from Kurt and Barb Gill, now of Minnesota, for $1 million.

Lore has it that Kurt, who was not present at Wednesday’s groundbreaking, was inspired to sell to the YMCA because of a free-throw contest he won at a YMCA when he was a kid.

“We owe them a lot,” Brendengen said. “They opened up this possibility to us and gave us a better deal on this site and a better location.”

Seven people spoke at the groundbreaking, including YMCA board chairman Neal Scharmer, YMCA steering committee co-chairman Gary Streit and project construction manager Brad Johnson with Knutson Construction.

Scharmer said the new facility signifies a commitment to building healthy minds, bodies and spirits in the region.

Streit said the importance of the YMCA cannot be underestimated.

“You can sense the impact it will have in this community,” he said.

The new facility will offer programming from the YMCA and the Marion Parks and Recreation Department.

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Mike Carolan, parks and recreation director for Marion, said the city is in the “quality of life business,” and the project is an opportunity to “bring like-minded people together to enhance the quality of life” for Marion residents.

The city will share staff, equipment and indoor and outdoor facilities with the YMCA, Carolan said,

“When the construction dust settles, the regional community will say we reached higher and the sky was not the limit,” he said.

The 75,000-square-foot regional YMCA will replace a 56-year-old facility at 3100 10th Ave. It will include three basketball and volleyball courts, two soft-surface racquetball courts and a one-eighth mile track.

The new facility also will have 7,000 square feet of fitness and exercise space, a community room, a six-lane lap pool, a warm water leisure pool and a cafe.

The need for a new YMCA was identified by the Marion Chamber in a community visioning meeting in 2008.

Comments: (319) 368-8664; grace.king@thegazette.com

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