Youngstown YMCA Reaffirms Commitment to Downtown

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Members of the Youngstown YMCA Central Branch will realize many benefits from its $5 million renovation, which began this week.

Workout areas will be more centralized. Additional space for youth programs will be added, and the view from the fitness center promises to be beautiful. The real benefits however, are less tangible, but equally if not more important.

“Our campaign is not about renovation or construction or bricks and mortar,” Tom Fleming told an audience of about 100 at a press event Wednesday. “It’s more about family and commitment, and how we can create a stronger community.”

Fleming and Jim Tressel, president of Youngstown State University, are the co-chairmen of the YMCA’s Growing Together campaign, which has raised just over half of its $17 million goal. The Central Branch renovation will cost about $5 million. The remaining $12 is needed to build a branch in western Mahoning County, officials say.

“We still need funds,” Fleming reminded his audience.

While much of the work will take place on the interior of Central Branch, perhaps the most notable change will be the addition of a large glass window that will face west towards the downtown.

“One of the goals of this improvement is to energize this building by bringing natural light into it,” says Gregg Strollo, president of Strollo Architects Inc., the project architect.

“In the evening it will be a beacon, and in the day it will be a reflection of the activity downtown,” he said. “You’ll actually be able to see what’s going on inside here.”

From the street, passersby will be able to see the new fitness center, which will take the place of the second floor community gym.

“The weight room is going to come up to the second floor and the fitness center is going to come up to the second floor,” said branch director Mike Shaffer.

“Now instead of going all throughout the building, everything they’ll need will be on this floor.”

The fitness center will also include an aerobics area in the space occupied by Sandy’s Deli. The restaurant will relocate to the first floor where Shaffer says it will get more exposure.

Other Central Branch features also will get shuffled around.

“Unfortunately I lose my office,” Shaffer said laughing. “That gets converted into a discovery zone fun space.”

The Central Branch was built in 1914 and grew organically over the years, resulting in a “labyrinthine” layout that visitors find confusing.

“It’s just what happens when you do those incremental changes,” said Strollo.

“One of our first tasks was to clarify the circulation so people don’t get disoriented in the building.”

Work is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

Youngstown YMCA CEO President Tim Hilk told the audience the renovations are symbolic of the organization’s renewed commitment to its Central Branch and the downtown.

“There are a lot of urban communities where their central YMCA has ceased to exist, or they’ve downsized into more of a service model,” Hilk said.

“We don’t want to see our downtown YMCA ever go into that kind of demise.”

The central branch has more than 4,000 members Hilk says, and is home to one of the largest youth sports programs in the Midwest.

While speaking at the event Jim Tressel, the president of Youngstown State University, recalled how integral the Central Branch was to the creation of the school.

“If you look right above the door in Jones Hall, you see the insignia of the Y,” he said.

YSU’s first president, Howard Jones, was on the staff at the Central Branch. His granddaughter, who was present at the press event, today is its assistant business manager.

It was just one of many examples cited to demonstrate the YMCA’s longstanding ties to the community.

“If you want this to continue for generations to come, this is the next step to making that happen,” said YMCA Trustee Richard Hahn, who was among several who issued a call to action to those in attendance.

“For 100 years there have been people that have taken on the responsibility of seeing that this facility is the vibrant center of activity,” said Strollo.

“I’ve been a member for 55 years. Once you get in here you’re hooked. It’s a pretty powerful place.”

Pictured: Central Branch director Mike Shaffer and Gregg Strollo, project architect, discuss the $5 million renovation.

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.