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Volunteers scramble to save local fitness facility

The New Richmond Area YMCA will end and hand over its local operation effective Jan. 1, 2009.

A new, local non-profit Board of Directors will take over the pool and fitness facility and operate it independently. The organization will be known as the New Richmond Area Centre.

Darian Blattner has been hired as the Centre's new executive director. Blattner was the YMCA's director for several years prior to losing his job this past summer.

"I'm grateful and fortunate to be provided an opportunity to come back," Blattner said. "I'm excited to get things going."

Blattner admits that the fitness and community facility is in tough financial shape right now. After signing up more than 1,000 members previously, memberships have dropped to around 800.

"It was a significant drop," Blattner said.

Some of those lost memberships occurred when the Greater St. Paul YMCA recently raised the rates at the New Richmond site.

The newly formed New Richmond Area Centre Board of Directors has already acted to address the cost concerns of members. The group voted Dec. 16 to reduce the membership fees and activity fees significantly to bring back previous users and to attract more members.

Adult memberships will cost $35 per month. An additional adult in a family will cost $10. Adding all the kids in a family (from one to how many ever kids you have) to a membership will cost an additional $10. The fees are a 28 percent reduction in the fees charged by the YMCA.

Swimming lessons will be just $7 for six classes for members and $47 for non-members. It's quite a bit cheaper than the $25 for members and $85 for non-members that the YMCA was charging.

"We clearly have the best aquatics center in the area," he said, "and want everyone to be able to use it."

The Centre will also expand its hours on Sundays to provide more opportunities for members. The facility will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sundays, which is an additional six hours of operating time.

The facility will also expand its offerings for young people, remaining open on Friday nights for special activities geared toward area youth.

The Centre will also continue with many of the YMCA's popular programs, such as free drop-in child care while members work out and fitness offerings for area senior citizens.

"This facility is a real gem for this area," Blattner said. "To make sure the Centre is successful, we just need to make sure that people continue with their memberships and we need former members to come back and give us another chance. We also need others who have never joined to give us a chance."

The Board has set a goal of reaching at least 999 members in 2009.

"We think we can achieve that," Blattner said. "With the lower rates we'll be accessible to everyone."

Blattner said he wants to hear from local residents about what they would like to see offered at the Centre.

"This is an opportunity to meet local needs," he said.

You can call Blattner at 715-222-2087 to offer suggestions. Members and community members can also contact any of the Centre's Board members with ideas.

The Board includes Jean Needham, Paul Mayer, Gary Bakke, Jeff Redmon, Bill Buell, Tim O'Brien and Morrie Veilleux.

"So far the response from the community has been very positive," Blattner said. "There's a feeling that the Centre is going to be locally owned and locally driven. And people feel good that the Board is made up of highly respected leaders. This area has rallied together before, and I think they will rally again around the Centre."

Many of the last-minute details are still being put together as the Jan. 1 deadline for the switch over approaches.

The Centre is lining up insurance and banking options. The Board and Blattner are also working to determine the correct level of staffing that will be needed at the facility.

"We want the staff to know what's happening as soon as possible," he said. "We need to figure out the best way to provide the highest quality of programs we can."