Flower petals swirled like confetti and fell onto the front steps of the Westport Weston Family Y as if sensing the celebratory atmosphere Tuesday as officials kicked off the "Building What Matters" capital campaign to raise $25 million for construction of the Y's new home.

The Westport Weston Family Y will remain in its current downtown location at 59 Post Road East until the new facility is completed at the Y's 32-acre Mahackeno Outdoor Center in the northern end of Westport just of Exit 41 of the Merritt Parkway.

Kevin Smith, a partner of Robert A.M. Stern Architects and project manager of the new Family Y, said the Y will be appropriately sized to fit into its new surroundings and it will be built to high environmental standards.

"A sustainable new home will allow us to continue to fulfill our mission as a center of community life and shared values. Our address will change, our mission will not," said Rosemary Halstead, co-chairman of the capital campaign.

Halstead told the crowd of about 100 people that efforts over the last four years have raised $25 million, slightly more than half of the total estimated to fund the project.

"This venerable building has been sold and we need to be in the new facility by the fall of 2014. Looking backwards, that means shovels in the ground by the fall of 2012 and, prior to that, an assurance that we will succeed in our fund raising," Halstead said.

"Time is of the essence. We need the help of our town, businesses, philanthropists, families and members," she said.

Representatives from three of Westport's best-known families -- the Gaults, the Mitchells and the Taucks -- attended the event. Halstead called them stalwarts since the beginning of the journey to a new facility, which started in earnest in 2003.

As remarkable as the current building is it cannot meet the needs of the two communities, said Sam Gault, a member of the Westport Weston Family Y board of trustees.

Robin Tauck Romano called the plans for the new Family Y at Mahackeno among the most spectacular in the United States. Tauck Romano said her children learned life skills and home values at the local Y, at Mahackeno camp programs, and as camp counselors, and she is excited that new generations will experience what she and her children have.

Other speakers also reminisced about their experiences at the Family Y. "I think I saw my first pool table and took my first shot downstairs," said Westport First Selectman Gordon Joseloff.

Bill Mitchell said he took his first pool shot there, too, in the 1950s and later was "hustled" there by actor and philanthropist Paul Newman, who made Westport his home. "He cleaned my clock. It was right after the (movie) `Color of Money,' " Mitchell said.

Craig Carnahan, a new member of the Y's board of directors, said he looks forward to getting involved in the capital campaign to make Mahackeno happen because his family is everything to him "and the Family Y is part of my family's everything because we use it so much." It is apparently meaningful to many other people as well.

So many people had gathered on and around the steps of the Y's Bedford Building that Joseloff was reminded of another large gathering on the same steps decades ago and worlds apart. Not since a day in 1969 when dozens of students marched from Staples High School to the Y steps to protest the Vietnam War does Joseloff remember seeing so many people there.

"It was a notable event in Westport ... We're not protesting today; we're celebrating," Joseloff said, although he admitted some people decried the loss of the Y to the downtown area. But, he said, "The town will be tremendously benefited by the plans."

Joseloff added that the construction of the new facility will create jobs and allow for a new vitality in downtown Westport with the transformation of the existing space.

David Waldman, one of the partners at Bedford Square Development, which purchased the Bedford Building, said he was not ready to divulge details, but Joseloff said it may include multiple uses such as condominiums, retail shops and restaurants.