Early on a Friday morning the YMCA is bustling with members of every age — a group of children file into the new Holly Pond Nursery School, a Zumba class is in full session, and an older crowd works out in a pool.
With the YMCA’s renovations coming to an end this season, the facility has raised $3.7 million out of their $6,000,000 goal. The project cost a total of $9 million. Before the renovation started, the YMCA did a feasibility study, said Maija Judelson, and they found that many people were willing to fund the “multi-generational” facility. The fundraising efforts feature the “major gifts,” and “Pave the Way” campaigns. Residents can pay for a bench or tree dedication, a garden, and an engraved paver brick. Some supporters supplied in kind gifts such as volunteering time or building supplies.
The project sat still for seven years before it received a green light from the Planning & Zoning Commission, according to Phil Martzolf, president of the YMCA board. Adding to the delay was the fact that the YMCA is a business in a residential neighborhood. The renovation project aimed to creating a space for the gymnastics team and rebuilding Holly Pond Nursery School. It was important to bring the gymnastics program back to the building, Martzolf said.
The renovation “brings [the facility] up to a point where we’re very proud,” Judelson said.
The award-winning gymnastics team now has a completely new space with an observation deck for parents, whereas the YMCA previously rented a space two times smaller at Goodwives Shopping Center, said Pat Morrissey, executive director of the Darien Y. The original gymnasium designs received some push-back from P&Z, he said, because they wanted something “more residential in design.” They settled on a space with exposed wooden beams in the ceiling, similar to a barn’s structure, to avoid the obtrusive support beams the Goodwives gymnasium had on the floor, Morrissey said. The builders had to “literally raise the roof,” he added. In addition, the space features floor-to-ceiling windows.
The new nursery school replaces an older structure built in the 1930’s, according to Morrissey. Twenty percent of kindergartners in Darien public schools graduate from this nursery school — current preschoolers will learn in the new classrooms with fish tiles, to represent Holly Pond, and flat screen televisions connected to the teachers’ iPads, Morrissey said. The school building has an exclusive entrance for parents and students. A playground sits adjacent, overlooking the water.
The youngest generation will use the new gymnasium and continue to use the smaller, therapy pool for programs. “What sets us apart from other nursery schools [is] the extensive physical education curriculum,” Morrissey said.
Another new addition is the Embody Fitness Gourmet café in the lobby where members can enjoy a coffee, fresh juice or snack. There is seating adjacent to the café and overlooking the main swimming pool, which is currently the only pool in Darien. The administrative offices on the second floor, facilities for special needs programming, and member locker rooms were also renovated.
A lot of money went to improving things that are not visible such as ventilation and green technology, Morrissey said. In 2011 Darien YMCA received an $185,000 grant from the Darien Technology Fund to “cover the cost of the co-generation technology for the Y’s heating, cooling and dehumidification needs,” according to the funds website.
The cogeneration system is energy efficient because the cogeneration (heat and power) system uses only natural gas to create both heat and electricity for the facility, and will lead to a smaller “carbon footprint” according YMCA administration.
First noticeable in the lobby, the large skylights produce ample natural light. Skylights are also installed in other sections of the building including in the nursery school. The windows, combined with “daylight dimming lighting controls” add to the new, “green” building, according to the YMCA.
“We are a cause driven organization that serves our whole community and is supported by our whole community,” Morrissey wrote in a November 2012 newsletter. “We are so grateful for your support — together we are creating a special place.”
For more information or to donate to the YMCA’s community campaign, visit darien-ymca.org.