Building the “new” Westport Weston Family YMCA at the Mahackeno campus was an enormous undertaking.
Countless public hearings — and nearly 2 dozen lawsuits — delayed planning, groundbreaking and construction for years.
LANDTECH — the Westport-based civil engineering, site planning, project design, environmental and construction management firm — was there every step of the way. They worked with Robert A.M. Stern Architects and many others, completing the finished product — finally — in 2014.
Except it wasn’t finished. Phase 2 — 22,000 more square feet, including a gymnastics center and enhanced exercise, wellness and healthcare studios, along with a redesign and renovation of the adjacent Mahackeno Outdoor Center — opened last year. Once again, there were challenges (like a global pandemic).
The Westport Weston Family YMCA’s Phase 2 project added a gymnastics center, and several studios.
But there were no lawsuits. The project came in under budget, and ahead of deadline.
Now the Y’s Phase 2 has been named Best Large Civic Project in the entire state.
The award comes from the Connecticut Building Congress, an association spanning every important trade group in the state.
“We worked with neighbors on the site plans and landscaping,” says LANDTECH principal (and Saugatuck native) Pete Romano. “There were no lawsuits at all. The process went very smoothly.”
LANDTECH’s role was broad. They collaborated with SLAM Architects and permitting groups like Conservation and Planning & Zoning, and closed out the project for a certificate of occupancy. Getting Mahackeno open last summer — when so many other camps were closed — was crucial for many youngsters and their families.
The Mahackeno Outdoor Center pool.
“It was a group effort at a trying time,” Romano notes. “Town Hall offices were not open. People were working from home. But in the end, everyone rowed in the same direction.”
The CBC award honors every group that had a hand in the Y’s Phase 2, from the excavators and pavers to the pool and plate glass folks. Turner Construction — the firm that built Phase 1 — was involved again too.
When COVID struck in March 2020, the Westport Weston Family YMCA shut down.
It reopened — very tentatively — 3 months later. Every area and program — fitness center, yoga, gymnastics, childcare — had rules. The staff followed them diligently.
The strictest regulations were in the pool. Swimmers had to sign up online 3 days ahead of time. Slots were limited to 45 minutes or an hour; there were restrictions too on the number of swimmers per lane.
In between each 45- or 60-minute session, surfaces — benches, hooks for towels, even handrails — had to be wiped down.
I’m a swimmer. For the past year, those daily workouts have been my physical — and mental — salvation.
I’ve watched the Y lifeguard in action, every day. They’ve been outstanding.
They’re diligent with their cleaning. They’re warm and welcoming to every swimmer. They’ve been patient, kind and helpful.
They helped create a nice community at the pool, at a time we desperately needed one.
A small part of the big Westport Y pool. The lifeguards have it all covered.
Yesterday, the swimming restrictions were lifted. The pool is (almost) back to normal.
Today, I give a shoutout to the Westport Y lifeguards. To Brian and his crew: Thank you. You’re “06880”‘s Heroes of the Week.
And you earned it without having to save anyone.
SPECIAL CITATION: Here’s a shout-out to the Y’s member services team too. Whether greeting guests at the front desk, working behind the scenes to solve a problem (the reservations system was sometimes glitchy), or helping someone make sense of the constantly changing regulations, they’ve been outstanding too.
And they never stopped smiling.
(Do you know an Unsung Hero? Email email@example.com)
YMCA once stood for “Young Men’s Christian Association.
The name Anjali is Indian. It means “devotion to God.”
Those 2 worlds — different religions, thousands of miles apart — are now one. Anjali Rao McCormick is the new CEO of the Westport Weston Family YMCA. Her path began in Calcutta; it now takes her to the Mahackeno campus, by Merritt Parkway Exit 41.
Anjali Rao McCormick
It seems almost foreordained.
Anjali’s family left India in 1984 for Long Island, where her father had a sibling. The oldest of 4 girls, she was suddenly thrust from an all-girls Catholic school into 11th grade at a public high school. “It was like walking onto the set of ‘Grease,'” she says.
As a government major at Harvard University, she thought about entering the diplomatic corps. But after graduating cum laude she pivoted to New York University’s Stern School of Business, for an MBA.
When her third child entered school, McCormick re-entered the workforce. She spent 10 years in a variety of positions with the Summit Area YMCA, rising to senior vice president, chief operations officer.
With her youngest daughter about to graduate from high school, the move to Westport seems right. She is looking for new challenges and growth opportunities.
The selection committee was impressed with her management style, and results at the 4-branch New Jersey Y. She’s been called a “transformational” leader, with “community focus, talent, and vision.”
And — though she did not know it until she applied for the Westport position — her Y ties go back far longer than her decade with the Summit Area Y.
McCormick’s father told her recently that after her grandfather left India by boat in 1927, landed in San Francisco and took a train to the University of Kansas, he found friends at the local Y.
“He was a brown man in white middle America,” McCormick says. “But the Y gave him a community. He felt he belonged.”
As she settles into her new community of Westport — she’s commuting until her daughter graduates, but spends several nights a week at the Inn at Longshore — McCormick is focusing on what makes this Y strong.
And how she can make it even stronger.
The Westport Weston Family YMCA .
The Y — and all of Westport — enjoy “a rich, robust history,” she says. “This is an excellence-oriented community. People have high standards. That puts pressure on me. But it doesn’t scare me.”
Her job is to “find a way to serve all the different populations. How can we grow, along with other youth and senior organizations? What can we do with the Library, and the Community Garden? A rising tide lifts all boats.”
She knows that Westporters are passionate about many things — including the long debate, a decade ago, over the Y’s decision to leave its longtime downtown building for the Mahackeno property.
“I come in with a clean slate,” McCormick notes. “”I hear the voices. It’s my job to ask what we need to do to make sure the strongest community exists here.”
She’s getting to know the staff, and is impressed with what she’s seen. She wants to make sure they’re customer-oriented, and can deliver on the Y’s promises.
The Camp Mahackeno staff gets high marks for their involvement with campers.
McCormick takes over at an intriguing time. COVID regulations that hampered many non-profits — and shut down the Westport Y for 3 months — are easing. Yet bringing people back to the pool, fitness center and classes is not easy.
The Y’s revenues dropped significantly over the past year. That’s another yet challenge.
McCormick sees opportunity in the pandemic’s wake. More people moved to Westport than any other town in the state over the past year. Many are families, with young children. She’ll reach out to new residents, inviting them to see all that the Y offers. “Come, get healthy!” she says.
Newcomers — those families, like herself today and her grandfather nearly a century ago — are looking for community. The YMCA — no longer a “Young Men’s Christian Association,” but a place for all — can offer that.
Bob Weingarten is the house historian for the Westport Museum of History & Culture. He writes:
I get many questions about the status of historic properties. Recently I’ve received several concerning the iconic historic building at the intersection of Wilton Road and Allen Raymond Lane.
The former Red Barn restaurant was operated by the Nistico family from 1983 until its sale to the Westport Weston Family YMCA in 2015. It has remained unoccupied ever since.
A painting of the historic Red Barn property …
As part of the purchase, the Y created a limited liability company: 290 Wilton Road LLC. YMCA CEO Pat Riemersma called it “likely to be the last piece of almost contiguous (cell tower in between) property to our Mahackeno campus.”
According to the Historic District Commission Historic Resources Inventory list, the building was built around 1850 as the Augustus Draves Barn. In the 20th century it became the Red Barn restaurant.
The Red Barn in 2014.
The Nistico family purchased the property in 1983, and continued to run the beloved restaurant until 2014. It was very comfortable, with a large hearth that had been remodeled by well-known Westport architect Frazier Forman Peters in the 1930s.
The Frazier Forman Peters hearth.
The Red Barn was an “06880 Friday Flashback” in January 2019. Sally Palmer commented:
The Red Barn was witness to the passage of many major events in the lives of Westporters. It was used for baby showers, baby naming, office parties, weddings, birthdays, graduations, too many funerals, class reunions and naturally for dinner. It is more than just an empty building, and I miss it.
Since the purchase more than 5 years ago, the building has remained unoccupied. This bodes badly, since unoccupied buildings can deteriorate more rapidly than those in use. This is true for interior construction (floors, walls, flues, etc.), exterior facades and mechanical equipment (air handlers, heating units, A/C, etc.). I’d hate to see what the kitchen now looks like.
In November 2015 the Y said: “This is a unique opportunity for our YMCA — a long-term investment that allows us to preserve neighborhood values and, ultimately, utilize the property for the benefit of our members and the community we have served since 1923.”
Lining up for a sale of Red Barn items and artifacts, in June of 2014.
Later, Riemersma reiterated:
We purchased the property because it was likely to be the last piece of almost contiguous (cell tower in between) property to our Mahackeno campus that would likely come to market.
When we entered into the planning process for Phase II of our facility expansion, we considered using the property as a stand-alone site for our gymnastics program.
When we ultimately decided to place that program in the new wing we were left with no immediate plans for its use and that still holds true today.
At some point in the future, as private property owners, in order to ensure that the Red Barn use compliments the Y’s, the Y could look to enter into a long-term lease or sale of the property or continue to hold it, whatever option seems best for the Y’s future.
This is a relief. But after so many years I wonder how realistic it is. I believe that the Y’s membership and other Westport residents should be apprehensive. Money talks, and future plans change depending on economic conditions.
The building has now been unoccupied for nearly 7 years, without a plan in place. I am interested in hearing what the new CEO plans for it.
The Westport Weston Family YMCA gets a nice shoutout in yesterday’s Washington Post.
Joanne Kaufman — who with her husband has “perched temporarily” in Fairfield County since fleeing Manhattan during COVID — writes about her return to swimming, at our Y.
The piece is called “Dear Locker Room, You Have No Idea How Much I’ve Missed You.” I thought it would be about the joys of the pool, even in a pandemic — my daily swims at the Y have kept me both physically and mentally fit since it reopened last June — but it is mostly about the camaraderie of the locker room.
Westport’s annual Household Hazardous Waste Day is Saturday, April 24 (9 a.m. to 2 p.m.,) at a new site: the Greens Farm train station.
The free program is open to residents of Westport, Wilton, Norwalk, New Canaan, Darien, Stamford and Greenwich.
These are some of the items that may be hanging around your home:
Garage: Paints, gasoline, kerosene, mineral spirits, spray paint, paint strippers, paint thinners, solvents, stains, turpentine, varnishes, wood preservatives, degreasers, etc.
Garden shed: Fertilizers, fungicides, herbicides, insecticides, pesticides, etc.
General household: Bleach, charcoal lighter, cleaning chemicals, drain cleaners, flammable liquids, mercury thermometers, moth balls, pet flea shampoos, photo chemicals, rug shampoos, spot removers, art supplies and paints, etc.
The following items are NOT acceptable: Propane tanks, ammunition, flares, explosives, commercial hazardous waste.
Before bringing hazardous household items to the collection site:
Make sure items are clearly labeled. Never mix chemicals!
Keep products in their original labeled container.
Place leaky containers in clear plastic bags.
Tighten lids of all containers, and pack items in sturdy cardboard boxes lined with newspaper.
Put boxes in the trunk or in back of the vehicle, away from passengers.
Leave pets and children home.
Keep your windows open. Drive directly to the collection site.
Do not smoke or eat while handling hazardous materials.
Antifreeze, motor oil, batteries of any type, fluorescent bulbs, compact fluorescent bulbs and electronics can also be recycled at the transfer station on the Sherwood Island Connector, weekdays from 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Saturdays from 7 a.m. to noon.
Put all household hazardous waste in the trunk or rear of vehicles. Only fuel containers will be returned to residents.
Questions> Call the Public Works Department (203-341-1793), or click here.
It seems like the only miserable thing that’s dragged on longer than COVID is the replacement project for the Kings Highway North bridge, by Canal Street.
Public works director Pete Ratkiewich reported yesterday:
“The contractor has just finished setting the first 3 of 6 bridge sections today in the pouring rain. The last 3 will be set Friday.
“The schedule has not changed, with completion expected by the end of June. Once the precast sections are in, they will be working on putting the bridge back together and finishing the project as quickly as possible.”
From his lips to …
Once upon a time, traffic flowed easily on Kings Highway North.
Speaking of a long 13 months: Westporters are ready to get back to the fitness routine.
So the timing is great for the Westport Downtown Merchants Association’s Fitness & Health Day. It’s set for Saturday, May 1 (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.).
The event takes place all along Main Street, but many more businesses and organizations are involved.
Fleet Feet in Sconset Square kicks things off, hosting a 5K run throughout downtown. Click here to register (spots are limited).
Westport’s leading studios and clubs — including JoyRide, Pure Barre, Row House, Elliptica, Intensity, Physique57, Club Pilates, Saugatuck Rowing Club, The Dance Collective, Stretch Lab, Kaia Yoga and the Westport Weston Family YMCA — will organize fun (and challenging) classes on main Street.
Walk-ups are not permitted for classes. To register, contact each studio directly. Observers are welcome, of course!
Other health and wellness folks will have a presence too: Franny’s Farmacy, RESTORE Cryo, Cparkly Soul, Wisdom and Youth MedSpa, Embrace Orthodontics, New England Hemp Farm, TAP Strength Lab and Organic Krush.
Other sponsors include Andersen Renewal. Wildflower Land Management, Manna Toast and David Adam Realty.
The Westport Weston Family YMCA’s new CEO has corporate experience. Anjali Rao McCormick worked for American Express and Citibank. She graduated from Harvard, and has an MBA in marketing from NYU’s Stern School of Business.
But she’s also a Y executive. Since 2015 McCormick has served as COO of the 4-branch, 550-employee Summit Area YMCA in New Jersey.
Anjali Rao McCormick
Her key priorities there were revenue growth (membership, camp, childcare, programs), new business growth through partnerships and collaborations, ongoing digital transformation, and developing staff. In February 2020, Summit opened a new $17 million facility.
Her selection to succeed Pat Riemersma — who is resigning after 6 years at the helm — was made today. McCormick begins her new job on May 1.
Board president Jonathan Manela says, “After an exhaustive search, we are incredibly fortunate to have identified and hired a true transformational leader whose community focus, talent, and vision will ensure our viability for the next hundred years.”
A press release notes, “McCormick is passionate about the Y’s mission to bring meaningful growth and transformation to individuals and the communities it serves regardless of an individual’s needs, challenges, or goals.”
The new CEO adds, “I’m looking forward to working with the Board, staff team, and the extended Y community to strengthen the Y’s focus to be a vibrant, intergenerational community.”
McCormick’s first experience with the Y community was after her family moved to Summit from New York City, 20 years ago. She was hired by the Summit Area YMCA as a director of marketing in 2011.
“It is with great enthusiasm we welcome Ms. McCormick as we seek to reengage our community post-pandemic, with an organization my great-great- grandfather E. T. Bedford founded in 1923,” says John McKinney, chair of the Westport Y Board of Trustees.
The Make-A-Wish Foundation has asked the Westport Weston Family YMCA to help with an emergency request this afternoon.
And the Y has asked everyone to help.
The wish — from a 6-year-old boy — is to swim with his family at the Y, have a pizza party, and pet a bearded dragon.
The Y hopes that members of the community will join staff and members to line the Y driveway entrance, to welcome the youngster at 3:10 p.m. today (Sunday, march 28. Let’s make it an unforgettable day for him and the family.
Jules Sprung — a Westport resident since 1976, and a noted swimming teacher — died March 6 in Norwalk Hospital, of kidney failure. He was 92.
Jules founded and ran 2 mail-order office supply companies, Hudson Pen and Sarand. He sold the latter in 1988, then worked as a marketing consultant.
In retirement Jules taught swimming classes for children for many years at the Westport YMCA. He was an honored presence at the pool until the pandemic.
He was also president of the Indian River Green condo complex on Saugatuck Road, where he and Barbara moved in 2002.
Born in New York City in 1928, Jules lived with his parents on the Lower East Side until the Depression forced them to move in with Jules’s grandparents in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
At Stuyvesant High School he was elected class vice president, and was celebrated for scheduling dances with nearby girls’ schools.
After a year at City College he transferred to DePauw University in Indiana, graduating in 1949. He was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Army National Guard from 1952, and worked for a time at the New York Post. He also spent some years as a marketing executive before founding Hudson Pen around 1969.
He was introduced to Barbara Rosenfeld, a freshman at Sarah Lawrence College, in 1952. They married in 1953. Their daughter Sarah was born in 1956; son Andrew followed in 1959.
The Sprungs had a genuine feminist partnership. Jules supported Barbara’s work as an early childhood teacher in the 1960s, her pursuit of a master’s degree in education in the early ’70s, and her career as a nonprofit founder and early childhood curriculum producer in the decades following.
When Barbara co-founded the nonprofit Educational Equity Concepts in 1981, Jules generously provided office space to the startup at Sarand.
Jules had a strong creative streak, writing short stories and authoring an ambitious historical novel in his 70s. He also published a memoir of his early life and career. Jules was enormously well-read and enjoyed sharing his knowledge about topics like political history and the classics. He had a mischievous sense of humor, whose storytelling skills often made him the last person to finish dinner.
Having enjoyed working as a swimming instructor at summer camps in his youth, Jules reconnected with that early passion in his 70s. He was recertified as a Red Cross instructor, and putting his skill to work at the Westport Y for 15 years, until 2012.
A patient instructor who enjoyed children, he provided meticulous small group and one-on-one instruction.
In his later years the pool was a refuge from arthritis. He was a familiar presence at the warmer end, where he was accorded space to do his backstroke laps. He and Barbara also loved Compo Beach and visited regularly.
In addition to his wife, Jules is survived by his sister Helene Naimon; his daughter Sarah (Allan) and son Andrew (Cynthia); 5 grandchildren, 2 great-grandchildren; sister Helen Naimon, and a niece.
Click here to help support “06880” via credit card or PayPal. Any amount is welcome — and appreciated! Reader contributions keep this blog going. (Alternate methods: Please send a check to: Dan Woog, 301 Post Road East, Westport, CT 06880. Or use Venmo: @DanWoog06880. Or Zelle: firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks!)