More than a gym: New Richmond Area Centre celebrates fifth anniversary
As the New Richmond Area Centre celebrates its fifth anniversary this weekend with a massive birthday blowout, board members and founding staff members are celebrating much more.
Over the past five years, the organization has taken ownership of a failing fitness facility and turned it into a community gathering space suitable for all types of people — which just happens to have a great pool and fitness center inside.
On Feb. 1, 2009, the New Richmond Area Centre, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, took ownership of the roughly 42,000-square-foot facility in the city’s old armory building. The facility included a pool, a massive gymnasium, a studio and a fitness center.
According to Executive Director Darian Blattner, who was around when the facility was owned by the YMCA, it wasn’t an easy turnaround.
“It was kind of an exhilarating time,” Blattner said. “It was a little scary, because we were taking over from the Y, and the Y struggled to be successful. And there were a lot of thoughts on how to turn this from the downward slide it was into something more positive.”
Blattner said the first month was a rush with a flurry of new membership paperwork.
Blattner also credits a decision by the organization’s board to lower membership rates as the catalyst to get community members who may have been priced out by the YMCA to come back and give the Centre a look. Basic adult memberships went from $55 to $35. Even today, a basic adult membership is only $37.
Once people started coming back for the lower prices, the Centre took that opportunity to wow them with a new sense of member service and straight-up friendliness.
“The staff were fantastic in having a different mindset, and we switched it from ‘what’s best for us as staff’ to ‘what’s best for our members,” Blattner said. “I think that mentality of hosting a gathering space helped.”
With the shifted culture, Blattner oversaw the facility as it changed from a gym into a gathering place with a community feel. How staff members interact with members became a priority, including greeting them when they arrive and saying goodbye to them when they leave. Seemingly small things, like how staff members answered the phone, were transformed into opportunities to make a member’s day.
“Instead of having a cold gym feel, it really felt more like a community center,” Blattner said. “That’s what we wanted to have happen. When you walked in here, if our staff didn’t know your name, by the second or third time you came in they did. I think when somebody says, ‘Hey Joe, good to see you,’ it feels different than ‘Can I see your card?’”
When the YMCA became the Centre, the facility included the 10,000-square-foot pool, a 10,000-square-foot gymnasium, a fitness studio, and a weight room with a cardio area.
In about 2010, renovations downsized the gymnasium to 6,000-square-feet, added a hardwood floor and used the leftover space to create two new fitness studios.
“We were able to go from one studio to three, and still kept a gymnasium,” Blattner said. “That was the first renovation we did that allowed us to meet more needs so we could serve more people at the same time.”
In 2012, the front portion of the facility was renovated to address some energy efficiency concerns and add three new youth program areas. In all, about 12,000-square-feet was added to the front of the building, bringing the entire facility’s square-footage to about 54,000. The Centre even worked with the City of New Richmond to vacate the street in front of the building to allow for the best use of space.
“It just made sense for us to move the youth programming that was in the back of the building up front, and then expand the fitness area into the areas where we had the youth programming,” Blattner said. “That expansion really almost doubled our ability because of what we were able to add in the fitness center. We moved free weights into a different room and added more cardio equipment.”
After five years at the facility, the Centre now boasts its pool, gymnasium, three youth program rooms, three studios, a fitness center, a weight room and three community rooms to serve its roughly 6,000 members.
The next five years
Blattner hopes to continue the Centre’s community focus, and be a go-to organization in New Richmond to help take on tough issues.
“My vision for the Centre would be to continue to provide health and wellness opportunities for the entire community,” Blattner said. “But, in addition to that, if there is a need in the community, that makes people say ‘how do we solve this?’ that the Centre is right there as an organization people think about. We’re here for the community, and it doesn’t have to be something that’s just pool-related or fitness equipment-related.”
Blattner also hopes the Centre will continue to grow, which could force the organization’s board to consider another facility expansion project.
“Do we expand out? Do we expand up? Do we need an outdoor pool? Do we need another gym? I don’t know,” Blattner said. “What they’ve been really good at so far is responding to needs.”
What: The New Richmond Area Centre is celebrating its fifth birthday with a party for the entire community.
Where: New Richmond Area Centre, 428 S. Starr Ave., New Richmond
When: Saturday, Feb. 1
— 8-11 a.m.: Pancake breakfast
— 9 a.m.: 5K Run/Walk ($20)
— 10 a.m.-noon: Check out the facility for free, meet Pickles the Clown and enjoy a variety of free children’s activities
— Noon: Coloring contest winner announced
Learn more: nracentre.com
25 THINGS YOU MAY NOT KNOW ABOUT THE CENTRE
Darian Blattner, executive director of the New Richmond Area Centre, believes there are a lot of things that make his facility special — and a lot of things community members might not know about it — so he put together this list:
1. Local musicians play in the lobby from time to time.
2. There is a free monthly pot luck for senior citizens.
3. The Centre puts on an annual free holiday event for senior citizens.
4. Middle school students can enjoy a free activity day on early out days.
5. The pool has a climbing wall.
6. A small turtle slide in the pool is available for younger children.
7. There is a youth climbing wall in the gym.
8. The facility offers Romp ‘n Stomp on inflatable jumpers and tumbling mats for families and children on Fridays during the school year.
9. The Centre has a 36-foot-long inflatable obstacle course.
10. The water slide is 96 feet long.
11. A logrolling class is offered during the year.
12. The local swim team, the Tiger Sharks, practices in the Centre’s pool.
13. Overnighters are offered for teens and tweens.
14. Wii Wednesdays are offered for older adults where they play Wii games.
15. Groups often play cards in the lobby.
16. Drop-in child care is free while members use the facility.
17.There is a water mushroom in the pool.
18. Healthy cooking classes are offered in partnership with Family Fresh Market.
19. The Centre provides swim lessons each school year for every student in first through fifth grade.
20. The facility offers a full day of activities for elementary school children when school is not in session.
21. Community rooms are available to organizations and groups in our community.
22. The Centre partners with Westfields Hospital to offer a Weight Control support group.
23. Boxing and kickboxing classes are offered.
24. CPR, First Aid and AED classes are offered.
25. A youth dodgeball league is starting up.