Guest column / Why the community needs a new Y
Updated 4:52 pm, Thursday, April 26, 2012
When we began our plans to build a new Family Y more than a decade ago, never could we have conceived the many obstacles we would have to overcome to get where we are today. However, thanks to the steadfast support from Y members and others in our community, we are well on the way toward raising the necessary funds to build Phase I of a new home that will allow us to continue our mission to develop youth, promote healthy living and foster social responsibility throughout the communities we have served since 1923.
The Westport Weston Family Y has identified $32 million in funding to date, including $2.7 million raised since March 19, when we announced the need to make significant progress toward closing a funding gap of $6.2 million.
Provided sufficient funding is in place, construction of the new Family Y at our 32-acre Mahackeno Outdoor Center will begin this fall, starting with a 55,000-square-foot building that will include a 25-yard lap pool and warm-water, family/teaching pool; large wellness center with the latest fitness equipment; multi-purpose gymnasium; three group-fitness studios; a child watch/kids' adventure gym area; five locker rooms; and other amenities of a modern, family-oriented Y facility.
How did we get to Mahackeno? Why is it the best location for a new Family Y? And what would our community be like without a Y?
In 2001, when it was determined that the current facility could no longer adequately serve our community, the Y boards reviewed more than 30 potential building sites. All downtown properties of sufficient size were town-owned, and none of those properties were available to the Y. It became clear that Mahackeno, longtime home of our summer day camp and less than two miles from downtown, was the best and only solution.
In 2004, the Family Y agreed to sell its current facility and arranged to continue its operations there until November 2014. Our downtown facility is our most valuable asset, and the sale of the building was done at the most advantageous time to maximize its value and our future viability.
Some who oppose the Y's plans use the word arrogant in reference to the Y's volunteer leaders. It's a charge that is difficult to fathom. True, pursuing any course of action requires decisiveness. Our boards made tough decisions based on hard research, the advice of experts and their own collective wisdom -- many of our board members have local roots generations deep. Some, like Allen Raymond, have been active in community affairs for a half century and more.
Locating our new Y at Mahackeno will be a transformative event for the communities we serve. One of Westport's largest, most scenic open spaces, our Mahackeno campus now will be accessible year-round, opening up a world of recreational, fitness and social activities. Our new Y will have ample, convenient parking and will be fully accessible. Summer campers will benefit from having their Y just across Poplar Plains Brook; so, too, will Y members as they work out to views of the Saugatuck River or jog along a fitness trail through the woods.
A nonprofit, charitable organization, the Family Y serves all who want to participate, and it enriches everybody in our community, whether they use the facility or not. "Building What Matters" -- our new Y -- also will create important economic benefits:
Construction of the new Y will generate some 175 jobs for local skilled workers over a two-year period.
Renovation of our downtown facility will create additional construction jobs and long-term employment. With private businesses and/or residences in place of a nonprofit, the Town will add to its tax base.
With your continued support, we will succeed in making real our long-held vision of a sustainable new home. We must, for our community without a Yis not an acceptable alternative:
Westport would lose its fourth-largest employer, source of some 150 full- and part-time jobs and dozens more seasonal jobs for local youth.
Our community would lose its leading provider of swim lessons, a critical life skill in a region blessed with hundreds of pools and many beaches.
Where would the four out of 10 local grade-schoolers who are active in Y programs go for after-school activities?
What other place in town gives the entire family the chance to enjoy healthy activities together year-round?
Who steps in to help bridge gaps in community needs? The Family Y partners with two dozen local nonprofits and works closely with our towns' social services agencies to help seniors stay active, keep teens healthy and involved and give our neighbors with special needs a way to be active participants in our society.
Help us build something that truly matters -- a new center of community life and shared values. For more information, visit westporty.org or call 203-226-8981.
If you're unfamiliar with Mahackeno, join us for Camp Mahackeno Open House, Saturday, May 19, from noon to 2 p.m. Turn off Route 33 at the Red Barn restaurant and proceed down Sunny Lane (to be renamed Allen Raymond Lane).
Scott Smith is the communications director for the Wesport Weston Family Y.