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YMCA reports healthy first year

The critics appear to have been silenced. The New Richmond Area YMCA signed its first lease with the City of New Richmond on March 8, 2004.

Now, a year later, things are going better than anyone could have imagined.

According to Executive Director Darian Blattner, the YMCA membership numbers are well ahead of early projections.

Through Feb. 24, the local facility has 3,313 members (or 1,269 membership units). That compares with 301 members (121 membership units) at the end of April last year.

"We're considerably ahead of where we thought we'd be," Blattner said. "I feel pretty good about what we've been able to do here."

Not everyone expected that kind of growth. A few residents critical of the city's decision to surrender the operation of the Friday Aquatics Center felt the higher costs associated with YMCA membership would scare people away.

Once area residents realized all that was included in a membership, the cost was not a factor, Blattner said.

"When we first came in, there was the fear of the unknown. Change is difficult," he said. "But once people gave it a chance, most of their concerns were gone.

"The city council should be very proud of their decisions," he said. "I think it shows it was the right decision. I would hope the city and mayor are happy with the numbers."

Whenever a YMCA starts up in a community, Blattner said, many residents have a wait-and-see attitude.

"It's up to us to provide the value to members," he said. "I think our staff is doing a wonderful job of providing that value."

Not only can members use the pool and gym space, there is a large fitness room with a variety of exercise equipment and about 27 fitness classes offered weekly. There is also a teen/senior citizen center for various activities through the week.

"We're trying to meet as many needs as we can with all the different age groups," he said.

Blattner noted that on Wednesday morning there were 25 preschoolers signed in for child care, allowing parents to exercise, and more than 60 senior citizens taking a defensive driving class.

On any given week night, as many as 60 teens may be playing basketball, while 15 may be skateboarding in another corner of the gym. Still other teens are just "hanging out."

For young families, one huge selling point is the free child care offered to members. Blattner said a parent with two children would usually have to pay $8 or more for child care while they went to work out. Now the cost is included in the membership.

"After a while, it started to seem like a great bargain rather than an inflated cost," he said. "That has become a tremendous draw for members who have kids."

To aid those who still can't afford the cost, the YMCA began a Y Partners program to raise funds to offset membership fees for low-income families.

The Partners set a goal of collecting $40,000 the first year. Through Feb. 15, $54,000 had been pledged.

"The support is a vote for the YMCA," Blattner said. "We're going to be here a long time. We want to become part of New Richmond history."

The local YMCA attracts members from as far away as Balsam Lake, Glenwood City, Clear Lake and Somerset, Blattner said.

"We stretch out about a 20-mile radius," he said.

Apart from members, the occasional use of facilities by non-members has gone well too.

"We have people who will come and use us as a destination for their family on a Saturday," he said. Families will use the pool and other facilities for a complete day, he noted. Many of those families travel from quite a distance.

The explosive growth experienced at the YMCA has some talking about future expansion of the facility.

Blattner said there are no definite plans for improvements or expansion, but the YMCA would like to install air conditioning in the gym area to make the space more useable in the summer months.

The staff would also like to consider replacing the gym floor in the near future.

"Any future expansion or improvements will be driven by the community. There will be a point that the volunteer YMCA board will have to start talking about that," he said. "And the community has shown great support."

About the only problem the YMCA has encountered in its first year of operation has been a lack of parking space. The facility's current lot and adjoining parking spots handle about 60 cars. A new lot will be opened this spring or summer that will handle another 60 cars.

"Parking has been an issue for us," Blattner admits.

To celebrate the YMCA's first anniversary, the local facility is planning a Healthy Kids Day April 2. The YMCA will be open to the community for free that day.

"It will be an opportunity for people to come in and see how things have changed," he said.

The YMCA staff is also planning member appreciation activities in the weeks leading up to the first anniversary, April 1.

Jeff Holmquist
Jeff Holmquist has been managing editor of the New Richmond News since 2004. He holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and business administration from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. He has previously worked as editor in Wadena, Minn.; Detroit Lakes, Minn.; Hutchinson, Minn.; and Bloomington, Minn. He also was previously owner of the Osceola Sun, Stillwater Courier and Scandia Messenger along with his wife. Together they previously founded and published The Old Times newspaper for antiques and collectibles collectors; and Up!, a Christian magazine of hope and encouragement.
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