Our Towns

Central YMCA Celebrates Its Legacy with $5M Renovation

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – More than one vestige of history was uncovered during the $5 million renovation of the Central Branch of the Youngstown YMCA.

Case in point: a girder that crosses the ceiling above the YMCA Cardio Center, a room in the space added to the original building – now a century old — in 1970.

At the time, steelworkers were locked in a dispute with President Richard Nixon, who was trying to “beat down the costs of the steelworkers union,” Gregg Strollo, partner at Strollo Architects, recalls.

Scrawled across the front of the girder was a message to the president from the steelworkers: “Nixon – You Do it for Less Because We Ain’t!”

“It’s a pretty interesting little timepiece,” said Strollo, whose firm designed the renovation.

That slice in time was exposed during the renovation of Central Branch, the completion of which Y officials and community leaders celebrated Thursday. The ceremony took place in the Manchester Room, which was restored to its original condition, including its flooring and elaborate woodwork that reflects the YMCA’s deep historical roots.

The renovation has transformed the downtown Y from the “dark and confusing labyrinth” it had been into a brightly lit space where patrons can find their way around, Strollo said. The work the contractors did “has been remarkable,” he added.

“I would say on average 50, 60, 70 issues cropped up and they had to deal with them on the fly,” he said.

Mike Shaffer, Central Branch executive director, recalled a closing comment at the final construction meeting by Ted Downie, president of Alex Downie & Sons Co., general contractor on the project. Given the limited resources available and the challenges that had to be overcome, the result was “nothing short of a miracle,” he said.

“What we did here has now poised the YMCA to be vibrant and alive and growing for the next generation,” Shaffer said.

Tom Fleming, co-chairman of Y’s Growing Together fundraising campaign, praised the board of trustees and former CEO Tim Hilk for their foresight in pursuing the renovation as well as members of the campaign and donors. Fleming, the president of Aim NationaLease, also lauded the many contractors for their work along with as well as Shaffer, YMCA  trustee Don Harrison, who donated hundreds of hours to oversee the project, and the YMCA staff and members for working “under less than ideal conditions.”

And Fleming thanked the many individuals who donated to the campaign.

As excited as he is at Central’s renovation, he continued, as his campaign co-chairman, Youngstown State University President Jim Tressel might say, “We’re only at halftime.” The capital campaign extends to constructing a new YMCA in western Mahoning County, with $11 million raised of the $17 million goal, he said.

While the campaign is suspended as the YMCA’s new president and CEO, Tom Gacse, settles in, Fleming said he is optimistic that the campaign would reach its goal, followed by a ribbon cutting “in the not-too-distant future.”

Despite the obvious focus on fitness, the Y is “not just a fitness facility by any means,” Gacse said.

“We’re a family. We’re in the fabric of this community,” he continued. “There’s a certain passion that goes with this place.”

Gasce reminded the 200 people who packed the Manchester Room for the ribbon-cutting that the YMCA’s mission has three parts: youth development, healthy living and social responsibility.

In addition to the more open space and relocated and upgraded exercise and training areas, the renovation includes the new Family Adventure Center, a play area adjacent to Sandy’s Deli & Catering. A $500,000 contribution from the Hine Memorial Fund of the Youngstown Foundation paid for the space and contributed to the exterior ramp that has improved access.

“The Y approached us, wanting to create a very open, accessible play area for children of all abilities,” said Crissi Jenkins, program coordinator of the Youngstown Foundation. “Accessibility is one of the missions of the Hine Memorial Fund – creating opportunity for recreation and play that all children of all abilities can enjoy – so that was what motivated us to make the gift to the campaign.”

The $5 million project also benefited from low-interest financing from the sale of New Markets Tax Credits arranged through the Western Reserve Port Authority that worked closely with the Development Fund of the Western Reserve and a $500,000 water/wastewater grant from the city of Youngstown.

Pictured cutting the ribbon: Campaign co-chair Tom Fleming, YMCA chief operating officer Beth Scheller, project architect Gregg Strollo, YMCA Board chairman J.D. Mirto, CEO Tom Gacse, Central Branch director Mike Shaffer, First Ward Councilman Julius Oliver and Ted Downie from Alex Downie and Sons, the general contractor.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.