Westport Weston YMCA opens new gymnastics center, studio space

Photo of Katrina Koerting

WESTPORT — People tumbled on mats and balanced throughout the colorful gymnastics center at the Westport Weston Family YMCA on Tuesday morning.

It’s a sight that wouldn’t have been possible until recently, but one years in the making as the center underwent a $27 million expansion and renovation project, which wrapped up last fall. Though the fanfare around the completion was a bit subdued due to COVID-19, staff members say it has been busier than ever.

“Even through the pandemic, we’ve been able to double our numbers,” said Sally Silverstein, the gymnastics director. There are about 650 participants in the gymnastics program, spread out over seven days a week and ranging from beginners to the elite level.

This is the third gymnastics gym Silverstein has designed for the Y.

“Each time it gets bigger,” she said.

The overall project included adding 22,000 square feet to the Bedford Family Center — 11,000 for the new gymnastics center upstairs and 11,000 square feet of new studio, classroom and programming downstairs. It also modified lighting, installed a new heating, ventilation and air conditioning system and modernized Camp Mahackeno.

Planning began nearly four years ago as a way to try to bring gymnastics back to the center, as well as increase space and offerings for its members. The YMCA hired SLAM to lead volunteers and staff through the process.

The center then raised the money through a capital campaign, support from the endowment and a tax-exempt loan, allowing them to break ground in September 2019.

“The project was fortunate to be completed ahead of schedule,” said Pat Riemersma, CEO of the Westport Weston YMCA. “Most of the materials needed for the project were ordered and delivered before the pandemic hit the area. Turner Construction did a great job at keeping all the sub-contracts accountable and follow all the guidelines which prevent stoppage of the project.”

The camp opened in June, just in time for the summer session. Riemersma said being open for camp was one of the priorities, and they were able to host 250 campers weekly under COVID-19 restrictions.

“Camp Mahackeno was awesome, and it was great to be able to serve our community by providing an outdoor experience for the children after being in isolation,” she said. “The sound of children laughing and seeing their smiles was the best part of last summer.”

The facility expansion itself opened in September and posed a few more challenges, including social distancing, wearing facemasks and capacity restrictions.

They also held off on buying some new cardio and strength equipment for the Robin Tauck Wellness Center due to the pandemic, though the cost is included in the $27 million pricetag and will be purchased later. They did buy the equipment to set up the new Zone Studio, which allows small group training for up to four to eight people.

Some of the other classes are in larger spaces, so people can spread out more, but once the pandemic ends the new studios can be used as fully intended.

“We have created a safe environment for all of our members that have returned,” Riemersma said. “With the vaccine now available, we are starting to see more individuals feeling comfortable to return.”

The Y might get more use now that the state will reopen further on Thursday.

Riemersma said they look forward to the new guidelines but will continue to enforce social distancing and mask wearing while in the facility.

“Safety is our No. 1 priority,” she said.

They’re also gearing up for the next session, with registration starting April 3 and classes starting April 26.

“We hope that the expansion allows the Westport Weston Family YMCA to serve the community in ways we haven’t been able to,”she said. “We want to partner with organizations in town to provide members and the community a place to live healthy happy lives while enjoying activities and learning new things.”

Silverstein is looking to the future for the gymnastics program.

The gymnastics center has restricted class sizes and added cleaning time between sessions due to COVID. Even with these restrictions, she said she has seen a surge in the gymnastics program, one she only expects to continue. As restrictions loosen she hopes to have larger classes and host birthday parties.

“Once we’re finally allowed to be normal again, this gymnastics center will blow up,” she said. “It will be great.”

This story has been updated with the correct start dates for the next session.

kkoerting@newstimes.com