What began as a dream is now a brick-and-mortar reality.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday evening at the new Westport Weston Family Y -- now to be known as the Bedford Family Center -- gave hundreds of people a chance to spend time in the new $38.5 million complex and reflect on the sometimes-bumpy journey that got them there.
The 54,000-square-foot building, constructed on the Family Y's 32-acre Mahackeno camp property along the Saugatuck River, replaces the Y's longtime home downtown at 59 Post Road East. The facilities, however, are not yet open for use by the Y's 5,500 members because of unfinished construction work and needed town approval of the waste water system.
"We couldn't do this without all these people's belief that this was going to happen one day," said Y CEO Rob Reeves, who added that the lengthy list of people to thank would be longer than he had time to mention.
"It certainly takes a team to make that happen, and I'm happy to be part of that team," he said.
One key member of that team was Allen Raymond Jr., who died earlier this year. And while he never fulfilled his wish of being first in the new 10-lane pool, he had prepared a short video message to be played for the ribbon-cutting celebration, which brought tears to the many members of his family present Thursday.
"Let no one doubt that I'm hear rejoicing and cheering with everyone today," Raymond said in the recording. "We're here at last."
"Fortunately, he was here to see the street named for him," said First Selectman Jim Marpe, referring to the entrance road to the new Y named in tribute to the benefactor, Allen Raymond Lane. "While he is not here for this momentous occasion, we can all be confident that he is here in spirit."
Marpe and others said the project was not only about building a new YMCA, but building a community.
"We were always told that it wasn't just about giving back to your community, it was about building a community," he said. "I just know all of the Bedfords before me would be smiling down on this facility."
After the ribbon-cutting, which took place outside the new entrance near the Merritt Parkway's Exit 41, people were invited inside to see the facilities.
"I think this is awesome," said Ben Gault, 11, of Westport, who was taking a first turn on the new basketball court. "I knew it was going to be a really big building, but I did not know it was going to be this big and this much fun."
The plan for the new Y was first approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission in 2008, but several lawsuits tied up the project until the final challenge was dismissed in 2011. Construction on the complex began in 2013, and officials now hope to have final details complete by sometime in September although no date has been publicly announced.
"We will open our new building at Mahackeno for use by our members as soon as all necessary town and state conditions are met and approvals are received," Reeves said in a recent statement. "We will announce that specific opening date as soon as possible."