For Christine Shaffer, returning to the Westport Weston Family Y after damage inflicted by Superstorm Sandy forced it to close for more than a month made her feel like George Bailey in the classic holiday movie, "It's a Wonderful Life."

"Hello, you old elliptical machine ... Hello, you stationary bike," she felt like saying. "It sounds corny, but I actually felt that I loved the building."

Shaffer shared her sentiments Tuesday night at a celebration officially welcoming people back to the downtown Family Y, and get them thinking about the Y's new home planned for the Mahackeno property.

The downtown Y at 59 Post Road East, began reopening its facilities Nov. 30, after about 45,000 gallons of water poured into the building from flooding triggered by Sandy. The damge required restoration of the underground mechanical network that the Y relies on to operate many of its features.

The inundation also seriously damaged the Y's lower-level Child Care Center and soaked its lower-level fitness center and gym.

About 50 people joined Y staff and officials for the Tuesday reception at Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, as well as the screening of two short films that focused on plans for the new $14 million complex that is planned for a 2014 opening.

"We hope within the next week to get our zoning permit," said Rob Reeves, the Y's chief executive officer.

"Once we get that, then we secure our financing for the project," he said, with the first phase of construction likely to start at the end of January.

"The Y is going to be right on the river and it's going to be beautiful," said Allen Raymond, town historian and civic benefactor, who recently pledged $500,000 to the project. "I just hope I live long enough to see it built," he said, "(but) we're going to get it built somehow."

Raymond is among some local contributors featured in the film, "Building What Matters," which also featured omputer-generated images of the interior of the proposed Family Y complex.

Midge Deverin, the Y's membership coordinator, said when the downtown Y was closed by storm damage, she and other staff members were struck by the emotional reaction by patrons.

"Everybody came over to each and every one of us and talked to us about how much (they) missed the Y," she said.

"It's interesting," she said. "Aside from the comments like, `I gained 10 pounds' ... the biggest and most resounding thing we heard was that a part of (their) family was missing.

"We're part of not so much an organization ... but a large family," she added.

"I'm at the Y five, six days a week," said Barbara Libove of Westport, who's been a member for Family Y for 28 years. "I wouldn't keep whole without it."

"It was awful," she said of the closure. "It was worse than awful. We made due finding classes where we could, but it wasn't easy breaking the routine."

David Cohen, the Y's vice president of operations, said the building is a much more pleasant place to be working "now that the bustle's back."

"This really is a home for so many people," he said.