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The Grove City YMCA recently celebrated the grand opening of its new 21,000 square foot program arena - and other incentives at the fitness center - on Oct. 26.

"I'm excited. We've been working on this for years now. It's worked out great," said Dorry Foster, CEO of the Grove City and Franklin YMCAs. That effort included "quietly soliciting gifts" before its official groundbreaking campaign in March.

"It'll have such a positive impact on the community and children," added membership director Beckie Bess, who has been with the YMCA for 20 years, since it was located in the armory on Erie Street.

"I've seen a lot," she said.

Planning for upgrades at the Y began in 2008. The plans were approved in 2009 and tested in 2010. "We hired a consulting firm to do a feasibility study," Foster said, including interviews with 70 community members.

"One hundred percent said the kids come first and they were all on track with the program arena," Foster said. "The second thing was a warm-water therapy pool," she added, which will be part of a second phase for construction in the future.

"We don't have enough funds for everything, and we didn't want a 4-to-5 year campaign raising money."

The first phase of the project has a price tag of $2.7 million, which now has received $2.1 million in pledges and donations, Foster said.

One creative fundraiser was hosted by Jerry Taylor Ford, which brought several of its vehicles - including its famous Steelers truck - earlier last month for people to test drive. Drivers only had to fill out a survey, and Ford would donate $20 per person to the Y, up to $6,000.

Grove City Young Professionals also put buckets in 30 small businesses in town to gather change, which was matched by County Market in Pine Township up to $1,000.

The Y used 30 contractors for the project - most of them local - which created "a huge community impact" economically, Foster added. Thomas Construction of Pine Township has been the lead contractor for the project.

The program arena includes a foot and inline hockey court, and the Y is now signing up people for pee wee (ages 6 to 10), intermediate (ages 10 to 14) and advanced (ages 14 to 17) leagues. Registration is due by the grand opening for the season, which will run from Nov. 17 to Jan 19.

Registration deadline has already passed for the adult inline and foot hockey league - for people 18 years and older - which will run through Jan. 13.

Learning to Skate and Family Skate Night is being developed. The Y is also making plans for tennis, soccer and basketball programs in the arena "as funds come in," Foster added.

Junior high students are being targeted with the expansion, especially with the new middle school opening last year next door. The Y already draws numerous afterschool kids from the adjacent Hillview Intermediate Center.

"We love the proximity of the schools to here," Foster said, making all three buildings like a "full campus" to Y staff. 

"This is the new neighborhood," she added. "We asked teens what they wanted, and they said they wanted a space to hang out."

That resulted in a new Teen Center being built off of the hockey arena; the original is being moved from a leased space across the street from the Y.

The new Teen Center is smaller than the older one, but it will entirely belong to the middle school kids.

Hillview kids -100 or more that show up at the Y every day - will use the youth room and gymnasium in the main building. "The older ones didn't want to be with the younger ones," Foster said.

Before, Y youth programs ended at 12 years old, added John Jopek, who oversees the afterschool programs and works under Bess.

With the huge arena space, "Now the hope is to provide for the teenage years, to cultivate that age group to be Y members throughout their childhood," he said.

To encourage junior high participation, the Y recently approved a free membership program during the school year for students 6th to 8th grades from 3 to 6 p.m. weekdays.

"Now there no hurdles for them to say they can't go to the Y because they don't have memberships," Foster said. "We're really excited to be helping the junior high. We want the Y used."

Kindergarten kids were given an extra classroom in the former community room across from the swimming pool.

Pre-kindergarten now meets in a space near the main entrance of the Y. The Child Watch program - to help out working parents -is now held at the Kids Cottage, which is a house next door to the main Y center.

Also off of the new arena is a small group-exercise studio, as well as a classroom created for a partnership with Slippery Rock University.

New SRU students in majors like adaptive physical therapy, physical therapy and exercise science will be using the classroom and working at the Y "for more field experience early on," Foster said.

"We want to create a bridge with arts and music as well, for people to come here to teach eventually."

Other non-physical activities have already begun; the Y's after school Art Club was recently formed with 30 participants, Jopek said. "There's such a high demand (for non-physical programs)."

The Y plans to set up its own store off of the arena to sell concessions and equipment, such as shin guards and bearings for skates, for the convenience of local families and visitors.

"The closest you can buy shin guards are in Cranberry," Foster said. Picnic tables will be set up outside the arena entrance for relaxing and eating.

The Y hired about 15 to 20 new part-time people to accommodate the renovation, and one new full time person, she said.

The Y had been giving hard-hat tours of the program arena, but access has been restricted now for weeks, Foster added.

The Y has been cleaning the space and adding furniture to the Teen Center and new offices to get ready for Friday's groundbreaking.

Pirates in-game/media host Joe Klimchak will emcee the event, which will include a foot hockey game with 40 local celebrities, like Mayor Randy Riddle, state Rep. Dick Stevenson and Grove City College President Dick Jewell.

Others will be roasted at the event; a raffle and refreshments will be on hand; and "we want people to bring their skates and tennis shoes to try out the rink," Foster added.

The Y has been at its current location since 1999.

"We're at an all-time high now with 4,100 members," said Foster, who start working at the Y as a certified kickboxing coach in the hopes of getting a free membership - and soon becoming the fitness director, then branch director.

She has been CEO of the facility since 2006.

"I like what I do," Foster said.

Published Oct. 31, 2012, in Allied News. Pick up a copy at 201 A Erie St., Grove City.

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