The spacious new parking lot was filled. Y members, staffers, volunteers and friends gathered to celebrate the move from the 90-year-old downtown facility, to the one off Wilton Road.
Longtime benefactors were honored at a pre-dedication reception inside. The Gault, Mitchell and Tauck families headed the list.
Robin Tauck enjoys one of the Y’s new group fitness studios.
Then the group assembled outside the west-facing front entrance. Replicating the work of his predecessor 91 years ago, Reverend Jeffrey Rider of Greens Farms Congregational Church delivered a prayer that invoked the first chapter of the Bible: Rather than dwell alone, mankind should be part of a community.
1st Selectman Jim Marpe continued the theme. He said the Y makes the community more whole, more healthful and more connected.
State Senator John McKinney — a Bedford descendant — described his family’s 5-generation support of the Y.
Board president Bonnie Strittmatter and trustees chairman Pete Wolgast thanked many people. So did Y CEO Rob Reeves, with a special shout-out to principal designer Kevin Smith.
Y CEO Rob Reeves, and the crowd outside the new building.
After the ribbon was cut, 250 people poured into the new Y. The adults ate, talked and toured, while the kids romped in the new gym.
It was a great start. But it’s premature. Until final inspections are done and permits are issued — hopefully within a few days — the downtown Y will linger on.
Enjoying the evening (from left): Ruth Sherman, who has taught aqua fitness at the Y since the 1960s; former CEO Helene Weir, and Patty Kondub, a popular Y spin and aqua teacher. (Photos/Scott Smith)
Comments Off on Y Cuts The Ribbon; Long Journey Is Almost Complete
Last November, the Westport Family Y warned that if a suitable site was not found by January 1, its much-heralded Early Learning Program would close.
Because a child care wing at the new Mahackeno facility is slated for Phase 2 at the new Mahackeno facility, for which no official timetable has been set, Y officials searched for an alternate site. Parents of the approximately 100 children — ages 6 weeks to 6 years — were devastated that the program’s engaging curriculum and community engagement would end. They were saddened too that staff members — some of whom were with the program for over 16 years — would lose their jobs.
Today the Y sent a letter to ELP parents. CEO Rob Reeves and child care senior director Tasha Dennison said that they were extending the service from June 30 to August 29.
However, that is the final day of the Early Learning Program.
The letter said:
Due to the complexities involved with establishing a new Child Care facility at our Mahackeno campus — approvals, public meetings, permitting, designs, site preparation and construction — we will not be able to complete this process in time to avoid an interruption in service. Therefore, Tasha and I, as well as the volunteer leaders who guide the Y’s operations, have had to make this unfortunate decision.
In an accompanying email, Reeves wrote:
Our staff have been touched by the feedback you’ve shared regarding the quality of our program which will be difficult for many of you to match. We remain committed to the care of your children and I want to personally thank Tasha and all her staff who have agreed to continue providing the love and care for your children until the last child leaves our care in August.
In my over 34 years of working for the YMCA, I have not worked with a more dedicated and caring group of teachers and care givers than what we have here at the Family Y and I’ll do all we possibly can to assist them in finding their next place of employment.
Quality day care is never easy to find. Today, dozens of parents begin looking for a program with the same dedication, care and love that they’ve lost.
Rob Reeves issued the following statement, in response to questions about the Westport Family Y’s childcare and gymnastics situations:
We thank the concerned parents for attending our meeting on Tuesday evening. The Family Y has been actively searching for suitable alternate sites for its child care services, as well as its gymnastics programs, for nearly 2 years, soon after the decision was made to proceed with constructing our new Y facility at Mahackeno in stages.
The first phase is a 54,000-square foot facility with all the features and amenities that will allow us to continue to offer people of all ages and abilities the opportunity to live healthier, more engaged lives. Ultimately, we intend to enlarge our Y at Mahackeno to the 102,000-square foot facility approved by all local authorities. That expansion is designed to include a separate child care wing and gymnastics center.
As we strive to open our modern new Y late next summer, we’re also continuing to explore all options to find suitable temporary locations in our service area – namely Westport and Weston, and possibly parts of Norwalk – for our child care and gymnastics programs. The problem has been in finding space that meets our standards, satisfies local and state licensing and zoning requirements, and is affordable. Such a location for our child care program simply hasn’t been on the market.
The Y’s after-school programs for school-age children, including Kinderkids, taking place this school year at Saugatuck Elementary School, will continue as currently structured. And we’re hopeful that a suitable alternate site for our acclaimed gymnastics program, with its own stringent requirements, can be found.
In the meantime, we’re hopeful that, somehow, we will be able to find a suitable location for the 35 families currently served by our NYAEC-accredited child care program in the time frame we’re working with. But we realize time is running short, and we see no alternative other than keeping our child care families informed so that they can make the best decisions going forward for themselves and their children.
The Westport Weston Family Y announced late today that it has received a temporary Certificate of Occupancy from town officials. The Y resumes operations — on a limited basis — tomorrow (Friday, November 30), at noon.
Family Y CEO Rob Reeves said:
“I am very proud of the work our staff and contracting partners have done to get us to this point. It’s been 4 weeks of cleaning up, drying out and undertaking the many complex tasks involved with getting our facility back in working order.”
The Y will resume operations using 2 external generators. These rooms and services will be open:
· All locker rooms
· Stauffer Pool
· Fitness center upper level
· Upper gym
· Racquet courts
· Gymnastics center
· Dance center studio
· Spinning room
· Bedford Room
The lower level of the Fitness Center remains shut until early next week.
YMCA aquatic director Nicole Turechek checks the temperature of the Stauffer Pool, prior to reopening.
The shallow, warm-water Brophy Pool was refilled on Tuesday, and a new heater connection is being established. It’s expected to re-open later next week.
The Family Child Care Center, in the lower level of the original Bedford building, suffered extensive flood damage. It is in the process of being completely renovated.
The Y’s infant/toddler rooms (upstairs only) will be ready to open on Monday.
Plenty of work needed to be done on the Y’s flood-damaged Child Care Center.
Y officials thanked the many contractors who helped recover from Hurricane Sandy, as well as area facilities that welcomed Y members and hosted numerous classes and programs during the hiatus. Those facilities include the YMCAs of Norwalk, Wilton, New Canaan, Darien and Fairfield, as well as Wakeman Boys & Girls Club in Southport, Intensity in Norwalk, Fairfield Country Day School, Christ & Holy Trinity Church, Westport Center for Senior Activities and Staples High School.
Meanwhile, as one door — er, YMCA — opens, another closes. The Norwalk Y on West Avenue will cease operations on December 31. Officials cited declining membership and contributions, as well as the cost of maintaining the nearly 90-year-old building, as reasons for the move.
Click here to read more about the Norwalk Y closing, from the Hour.
About the only thing the Y shares with those organizations is its non-profit status.
“It’s been a long process, I know,” Paul says, referring to the many years the Y has spent trying to build a new facility — and of donor fatigue.
“Some people wonder if it’s every going to happen. When we get shovels in the ground, people will really start to believe what we’re doing.”
Paul adds, “I’m a glass-is-half-full guy. If I can bring my passion for this great, exciting facility, we’ll bring more volunteers forward. The staff can’t do this alone.
Plans for the new YMCA facility at Mahackeno.
So far, the Y has solicited funds from “folks with means,” Paul says. The next step is smaller donations, from families and individuals. Many, he said, have not yet been solicited.
“I’m not naive,” Paul notes. “I know it will take hard work.”
He took his new post with eyes wide open. CEO Rob Reeves and fundraising consultant Jon Simons sent him background material dating to 1995.
“I know folks are disappointed the Y is moving out of downtown,” Paul says.
“Change is difficult. I’m a traditionalist too. But this facility will serve the 21st century. We’re thinking ahead, to the next 50 years.
“We’re at a crucial point in the history of this Y. It’s a privilege for me to be part of this organization.”
Was there any hesitation in accepting the position?
“A little,” Paul admits. “But as I dug deeper, I saw that most questions and concerns have been addressed, time and time again.
“I have faith in the goodwill of the people in Westport and Weston. It takes courage to tackle something new like this. I give lots of credit to the board. They’ve made some tough decisions, and stood by them.”
His job, he says, is to “educate, inspire and invite people to be part of this project. I’m not going to be walking around with a club, hitting them over the head.”
He looks forward to building confidence, opening doors, helping people feel comfortable donating money, and asking others to do the same.
The dicey national economy does not help. But, Paul says, after the sharp drop in philanthropy in 2008-09, people are starting to donate again.
“If there’s a cause you believe in, you’ll give year after year,” he notes. “That’s the great thing about our country.”
He calls it a “blessing” that Westporters and Westonites have the means to help the Y. Of course, they do not wake up every morning planning to donate. And they sure don’t walk through the door offering bags of money.
The Westport Weston Family Y announced today that it has withdrawn the pending application with the Town of Westport to connect its planned new Y facility at Mahackeno Outdoor Center to the Town’s municipal sanitary sewer system.
The Family Y had previously gained local and state approval to install and operate a septic system that would safely treat wastewater from the new Y facility on site. Citing environmental and economic benefits, in late January the Family Y filed an application with the Town to connect its planned new Y to the Town’s municipal sanitary sewer system.
“We filed the application in response to input that we had received throughout the public approval process from many members of the community, including local officials, expressing a preference for a sewer connection rather than an on-site septic system,” said Rob Reeves, Family Y CEO.
Since the application was filed, it has become apparent that the Family Y’s application has raised consideration of issues broader than anticipated.
In 1953 -- when Stevan Dohanos drew this Saturday Evening Post cover at Camp Mahackeno -- few folks worried about either sewers or septic systems.
“Under the present circumstances we do not feel it is in the interest of the Family Y – our 5,500 members and the volunteers who lead our association – to pursue the application further,” said Reeves. “Simply put, we need to focus on our greatest priorities: meeting our funding goals and keeping our construction plans and timeline on track as we continue to meet the needs of our community with our many programs and services.”
“We have every confidence in the septic system as designed and approved and will proceed with our efforts to build what really matters – a sustainable new Y for our community – in accordance with all the required approvals that are now in place,” said Reeves.
The Y is still approximately $5 million short of the $36 million needed by May 11 to reach its financial and construction deadlines. The press released noted that if sufficient funds are raised, construction will be in October on Phase I of the new Y facility. The 55,000-square foot building will include a lap pool and family/teaching pool; wellness center; multi-purpose gym; 3 group fitness studios; a child watch/kids’ adventure gym area; 5 locker rooms, and other amenities.
The Family Y held a Public Presentation on Monday night. We have a $6.2 million gap to goal for the project to build a new Family Y at Mahackeno. We have a May 14th deadline to raise a substantial amount of the remaining funds, or the project may come to a halt. After this many years I would hate to see that happen.
But read on, we have some good news to share!
This spring is crunch time for the Westport Y.
Since we have made the $6 million gap public last week, we have had a wonderful response from several donors. Once we get their final okay, we expect to be reporting close to $1 million has been raised in the last several weeks. That would put our gap now under $5 million, which is great news.
Thank you to many who have supported our campaign to date. If anyone would like to discuss helping support the project to keep our 88-year-old organization alive to serve the communities of Westport and Weston for another 88 years, please let me know. All gifts are welcome, and I will meet to discuss our plans with anyone who is interested.
Thank you for your consideration. I hope you can’t imagine not having a Y here to serve the community like we do, and would be willing to discuss how you can help!
That’s some letter. The news of the Y’s funding shortfall has the town buzzing. It’s also revived talk — dormant for a couple of years — of the Y staying downtown, perhaps at a property like the Imperial Avenue parking lot.
What can the Y do to raise nearly $5 million in less than 2 months? Is its scaled-down (2-phase) building plan for the Mahackeno property helpful? Is a downtown site a reality? What would Westport be like if the Y folds? Click “Comments” below.
It’s not easy telling an 89-year-old something he doesn’t already know.
But Allen Raymond was genuinely surprised yesterday afternoon. The Westport Y told the former board president it’s renaming the entry road to Mahackeno — the future site of the Y itself — “Allen Raymond Lane.”
The announcement — and presentation of an actual road sign — came at a party celebrating the trustee emeritus’ 89th birthday.
Allen Raymond: The man, and his sign. (Photo by Scott Smith)
Celebrants noted that the year 1923 marked 2 very special events: the opening of the Y in downtown Westport, and the birth of Allen Raymond.
“For the past 88 years, these 2 ‘local institutions’ have remained steadfast in their commitment and dedication to our community and its residents,” Y officials said. “Allen truly embodies the heart and soul of Westport and the Family Y.”
But her spotlight is on. She’s warming up her vocal cords. And she’s ready to step onstage.
A Stamford Superior Court decision seems to have removed the last major impediment to the Westport Weston Family Y‘s move from downtown to its 32-acre Camp Mahackeno property.
On Thursday, Judge A. William Mottolese rejected an appeal filed by Y Downtown, a grassroots organization hoping (duh) to keep the Y downtown. The sigh of relief heard in the 87-year-old Tudor building on the corner of the Post Road and Main Street could be heard — well, all the way up Wilton Road, to Mahackeno’s hills, dales and river.
The Westport Y in downtown Westport -- until 2014, it now seems.
Yesterday, Westport Y CEO Rob Reeves reflected on what the decision means.
“We didn’t have to wait for this decision to move forward with our plans, but because I was new to the job 2 years ago, and there was so much uncertainty (about the court case), we decided to wait,” he said.
“Now that the judge has spoken, we’re going to refocus our efforts. We’re going to talk to the community and the media. We’ve been quiet for a while. Now we look forward to reminding people of what we do, how we connect to the community, and how we’ll make this the best move it can be.”
Y Downtown has 20 days to request an appeal before the Connecticut Appellate Court. There is no certainty that request would be accepted.
Y Downtown has not announced whether it will appeal. As of yesterday afternoon, its website did not have news of Thursday’s court decision.
Though a major impediment to the Y’s move has been cleared, another obstacle remain$.
A capital campaign will be announced sometime this year. Y officials have not yet re-priced the Mahackeno building, but the fundraising environment is clearly different than when planning began in 2002 — nearly 10 years ago.
Reeves — who combines FDR-like optimism with a healthy dose of pragmatism (he came to Westport from Maine) — sees an upside in the economic downturn.
“If we’d started a capital campaign 4 years ago and then ran into the recession, people might not have been able to make good on their pledges,” he said.
“Now, people might contribute less. But they’ll be more realistic about what they say they can give.
“We have to go beyond the typical big donors,” he added. “They can’t carry this. Whatever we do has to be much broader based.”
Nationally, Reeves noted, non-profits are initiating fundraising campaigns — and money is coming in.
He said that the Y will soon reassess “what we can realistically build. We won’t commit to a building we can’t afford.”
An artist's rendering of the Westport Y at Camp Mahackeno.
So — as the fat lady prepares to walk on stage — Reeves is readying the Westport Y for its own next steps.
“We have to position ourselves as an asset to the community,” he emphasized. “We have to explain why this took so long, and what we plan to do.
“If this community wants the Y to be an integral part of Westport — and that’s what we hear, over and over — we have to make sure people understand that we have to move.
“We have an agreement to be out of the (downtown) building by the end of 2014. We can’t change that.”
Though he supports keeping the Y where it is, Matt Mandell is not a Y Downtown leader. He’s chair of the RTM’s Planning and Zoning Committee — and an astute observer of the way the political winds blow.
In an e-mail to like-minded Westporters after the judge’s decision, he seemed to acknowledge that the fight was over.
He said that Y Downtown “put up a great fight.”
The Y folks too, he said, “fought well.” He congratulated his foes, and acknowledged that over the past few years there were “some tough moments and at times bad blood.”
But in the end, Mandell said, “we are all one community and continue to live among each other. While I might not like the new location, I’m sure it will be a great place to use. One thing Y folks, please do right by your neighbors, you owe at least that much to them.”
Reeves agrees with his former foe.
“We’re hopeful we can put everything that’s gone on behind us,” the CEO said. “We want to be a good neighbor, even for those people who might have been uncertain about us.”
The fat lady couldn’t have sung said it better herself.
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