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'Built to serve all': Bloomington-Normal YMCA is set to open a $24 million facility

After nearly a decade of planning and fundraising, the Bloomington-Normal YMCA’s new $24 million facility is set to open.

The 76,000-square-foot building at 202 St. Joseph Drive on Bloomington's east side is a collaboration between the Y, Easterseals and OSF HealthCare that donated the land. The facility will open Aug. 15 for charter members; it opens to the public on Aug. 22.

The new Y has many features not available at its current downtown location, including a second pool, rooftop terrace, coffee bar and more. One of the biggest features is its so-called sports center that has four courts — twice as many as the current site. It can host basketball, volleyball, and pickleball.

Executive director BJ Wilken said the courts also can accommodate more growth by expanding the basketball program and possibly start volleyball and pickleball leagues.

“We provide these sports, yes, because of the physical activity, but what we’re looking for, our sports with the YMCA, is building the social, emotional, and cognitive aspect of youth development,” Wilken said. “There’s so much more to be gained through sport and how we do that through the YMCA.”

"We weren’t really serving all that we needed to serve. So with this facility we feel so much more comforted knowing that we have that ability to serve all in our community."
B.J. Wilken

The Y's technology has advanced as the courts are furnished with electronic scoreboards. Wilken said the four courts signify what the YMCA represents.

“We’ve named every one of the four courts after one of our core values: Caring, honesty, respect, and responsibility,” Wilken explained. “So when the kids come in and they say, 'What court am I on?' we can tell them, 'Oh, you’re on caring court.' It just continues to reinforce those core values that we try to teach.”

For a dip or a lap in the pool, the Y has two options. One is for lap swimming, with eight 25-yard lanes and a starting block on each.

Wilken said this enables the Y to host swim meets and may even start a water polo league. The second pool is for recreation and for physical therapy. It features a zero-depth entry with submersible wheelchairs, a river current to rehab knees and hips, and a warm 88 degrees.

Wilken noted that’s much warmer than some of the more active swimmers prefer. Now swimmers will have a choice.

“I tell people in the community we make everybody mad,” he quipped, adding it allows the Y more space to offer swim, CPR, and lifeguarding lessons.

He said that versatility will make the Y more inclusive, something that's not always possible at its current, smaller space.

“We really couldn’t, and we weren’t really serving all that we needed to serve. So with this facility we feel so much more comforted knowing that we have that ability to serve all in our community,” Wilken said.

swimming pool
Matt Cherry
/
WGLT
The new Bloomington-Normal YMCA will have two swimming pools, including one with eight lanes and starting blocks.

Wilken said another example of being more inclusive is the universal locker room. Wilken said it’s wheelchair-accessible and offers parents with kids an area they can easily assist their child.

“I think of people with mobility issues who are in wheelchairs,” Wilken said. “I think about parents with kids of opposite genders. If you think about all of the different special populations and needs that are out there upon which people can use these locker rooms, it’s great, and feel safe, comfortable, and invited.”

The new Y also comes with a teen intergeneration room. Teens can use it for schoolwork or socializing, and includes an esports gaming wall with five gaming PCs. Wilken said the Y hopes to host esports gaming leagues, where kids can play against other YMCA’s across the country.

Upstairs, runners can get their miles on an indoor track, or on the cardio equipment. Treadmills have 17-inch screens compatible with cable television as well as streaming services like Netlflix. There also are free weights and multiple studios for group exercise classes like cycling or dance — live and on-demand.

Fundraising

None of this happens without a major fundraising effort that took nearly a decade to complete. Wilken said the Y is about 90% toward its financial goal.

“We’ve been incredibly blessed, very, very blessed in this community. We have raised just over $21.5 million. So there will be a little bit of debt financing that we’ll assume," he said.

The new YMCA sits near Veterans Parkway, and is no longer walkable for some who frequent the current YMCA south of downtown Bloomington.

Wilken said the Y’s research shows 97% of its members can come by car. For the rest, he said, they are working on it.

“You never want to leave people behind, and we knew that was very, very important to us,” Wilken said. “So how do we continue to get those 3% to come here?”

Wilken said the YMCA bought a bus that can take kids back and forth. He said it's not clear yet how much it will be used and where it will go. Wilken said District 87 schools will organize a bus to take kids to the new facility after school, and Connect Transit has set up a stop to the new Y along one of its routes.

Easterseals Central Illinois also will have a new home in the new Y. Easterseals is a nonprofit that helps people with disabilities. Wilken said the Y offers any benefits that will serve Easterseals clients, too.

“The main reason is because it’s the right thing to do, and so Easterseals has that potential of utilizing the warm water therapy pool, utilizing our community meeting room space, our conference room, the gymnasium,” he said.

Wilken said the collaboration between the two organizations pushes the message that all are welcome at the new facility.

Wilken said YMCA membership rates will not change. Rates start at $44 per person. He said the YMCA has funding available for families who are unable to pay.

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Matt Cherry is a student reporter.
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