by CHRIS ROGERS
The Winona Family YMCA is really doing it. After years of planning and revised plans and after dozens of community members stepped up and pledged over $13 million to the project so far, the Y is breaking ground on a new building this Thursday.
“Our community is on the verge of having a new, state-of-the-art YMCA to meet the health, wellness and fitness needs of our area,” Y leaders wrote in an announcement released last week. “This new Y is being designed to provide fun, healthy, and community-building programs and activities for all ages for decades to come.”
“It’s kind of about time,” Y Board President Scott Hannon said with a laugh when asked how it feels to reach this point in the project. “I’m glad we did our due diligence to get to this point, and I’m happy for our Y members. I’m happy for our community. I think once this thing gets built, people will think it’s a good deal.”
Y leaders were already talking amongst themselves about a new facility when Hannon joined the Y board several years ago, and the Y publicly launched building plans and a capital campaign to fund it back in 2016. Since then, the Winona bridge project hemmed in the Y’s current location, a 2016 deal to sell its current building to Kwik Trip fell through, the Y changed CEOs, it changed architects, it took the time to talk with Winona city officials about a potential community center partnership, and ultimately moved forward with revised plans for a shared Winona Health-YMCA facility at Winona Health’s campus. “It’s been an interesting time for the Y — probably the most dramatic time for the Y in Winona,” Hannon acknowledged.
He should know. As a boy, Hannon learned to swim at the Winona YMCA, and he has been a member for 54 years running. Gesturing to the current YMCA building surrounding him, Hannon said, “People who came before us made this happen. Whatever we have, people donated to make this happen.” He added of the new Y project, “I donated so my kids and grandkids will have a place to have healthy activities and learn.”
Years ago, Hannon actually helped raised money to add a new pool to the current YMCA building, but he said, “The Y has kind of run its course as a building. It’s got a lot of deferred maintenance, and it’s getting more costly to run.” In their announcement, Y leaders explained the impetus for building a new YMCA. “Facing a future that included no room for facility growth, limited parking, no green space for kids activities and an aging facility that was taking a toll on the operating budget, we decided to explore the possibility of a new Y that would address these issues and position our Y for a bright future,” they wrote. “At the same time, Winona Health was considering the development of a new wellness center on their campus off of Highway 61. The two organizations came together and decided to form a collaboration that would meet the needs of both organizations … Eight out of 10 new Ys are now being built in collaboration with a medical partner and this concept has proven to be highly successful across the country.”
The new Y building will feature a zero-depth-entry, six-lane pool, a “Family Fun Center” that will be open for families to host gatherings, a drop-in child care center, a gymnasium for all kinds of sports, a wellness center for all-ages workouts, two racquetball courts, and locker rooms specifically for families and people with special needs. It will also be home to the Winona Health Rehabilitative Services department, where people recovering from injuries or heart attacks can seamlessly transition from a few months of physical therapy to daily exercise at the Y and where families can drop off one child for an occupational therapy session while their siblings shoot hoops.
“We think we’re going to gain a fair amount of new members, and new members will enhance our programs, enhance our financial standing, and make us even more of a community beacon,” Hannon stated.
After this week’s groundbreaking ceremony, soil remediation and parking lot preparation work will begin. Contractors might begin driving pilings for the building itself by early spring, and the serious construction work is expected to begin next April. Y leaders expect the project will take around 12 months to complete after that.
Although it is breaking ground, the Y is not done fundraising. The Y has received $13.1 million in pledges and donations so far, and it is aiming to raise $14.5 million. “So we’ve got a ways to go,” Hannon said. He explained, “I think there were some people who were sitting back thinking, ‘Is this really going to happen?’ And the answer is a resounding, ‘Yes.’ As of next Thursday, we’re turning some ground over and getting things going.”
It has taken a lot of work and generosity to get the Y’s new building project to this point, Hannon continued. “These are projects you can’t take lightly, and they’re completely donor-funded, so you have to rely on your members and your community to not only see the need but underwrite it with donations and support … We’ve got some really great members that have stepped up to support it,” he said.
The groundbreaking ceremony will be held on Thursday, October 18, at 2 p.m. on the Winona Health campus. The new Y site is on the south side of the campus and just north of River Hills Dental.