Against the backdrop of a sustained national recession, the board of directors for the YMCA of the Martha’s Vineyard voted unanimously last Friday to begin construction on the long-awaited 38,000-square-foot YMCA building to be built across from the regional high school on the Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road.
Construction will begin sometime in April, said YMCA board of directors president Chuck Hughes, and the new facility is expected to be finished within 10 to 12 months. In a prepared statement, Mr. Hughes called the board’s decision “courageous” considering the state of the economy, and also the fact that $2 million still needs to be raised to complete the $11 million facility.
“We have a few more hurdles to resolve, but are confident we will resolve any outstanding issues in order to get the shovel in the ground very soon,” Mr. Hughes said.
The timetable for completion of the new YMCA has already been pushed back several times. When plans were approved by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission in August of 2007, project backers said the facility could be completed by February of this year.
In a phone conversation Wednesday, Mr. Hughes acknowledged it was a “big risk” to move forward with construction now. But he also said the sagging economy here and across the country has created more of a need for the inexpensive programs and services the YMCA facility will provide.
“There is more of a need now than ever,” he said. “These types of facilities are very much in demand right now.”
Mr. Hughes said last Friday’s vote was not a formality, and noted that the unanimous vote of 21-0 in support of starting construction was a solid indicator of wide support for the YMCA building. In his time on the board, Mr. Hughes said he could not recall a time when all 21 members participated in a vote, never mind voting for something unanimously.
Mr. Hughes lauded board members for their brave vote in the face of adversity.
“We tried to present the most honest set of documents we could. We didn’t ignore that the country was in an economic downturn. We explained, ‘This is what we have for money,’ and ‘This is what we need to raise.’ It would have been very easy for them to say, ‘Not now.’ But they didn’t do what was easy . . . they did what they felt was right,” Mr. Hughes said.
Mr. Hughes said YMCA officials will need about 30 days to sign contracts and take care of other loose ends before construction begins. He said he couldn’t reveal the identity of the contractor, because the contract has yet to be signed, but suggested there may be some good news in terms of construction costs.
“There could be a substantial reduction in terms of the cost of the facility,” Mr. Hughes said.
The prepared statement from the YMCA states that phase one of the project will consist of an indoor aquatics center, a teen center, wellness center, café and community meeting rooms. The statement explains that with “continued fundraising, hopes are high that a gymnasium with an indoor elevated track can be included towards the end of phase one.”
YMCA executive director John Clese said, “We are not done with our fund-raising efforts . . . We are at this exciting point through the generous contributions of so many Islanders and seasonal residents, but we have not raised all of the funds necessary to complete this project.
“This is a leap of faith for the Y board, but they are one of the most dedicated groups of volunteers I have ever worked with,” Mr. Clese continued. “I’m confident we’ll be able to raise the necessary funds.”
The YMCA has raised more than $7 million; just over $5 million has been collected, with another $1.6 million pledged and due by August. Another $500,000 is expected from a challenge pledge, and another $1.5 million will come from a loan by an Island bank.
Mr. Hughes said that leaves around $2.2 million that still needs to be raised. “I suspect that showing the community we are starting construction on an actual building will make people more prone to make donations . . . that is my hope, at least,” he said.
He said YMCA officials have had no problems collecting pledges from donors, despite the national recession.
“We have a perfect record so far, 100 per cent, which is amazing really. You can’t automatically expect [donors] to send that mony in, but they have . . . it’s been automatic so far,” he said.
The YMCA is planning several more fund-raisers later this year. Some of those events may take place at the construction site so that donors can see first-hand what progress is being made. He said he remains optimistic the first phase of the project can be completed within the next year.
Plans call for the 38,000-square-foot, green-designed YMCA to be built on an undeveloped five-acre property leased from the high school behind the skate park in Oak Bluffs. Building plans call for a full gymnasium, child care rooms, meeting facilities, an Olympic-sized swimming pool, hot tubs, saunas and steam room.
The YMCA signed a lease with the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School in 2006 stipulating that the organization will lease the land from the high school in exchange for 356 hours of access each year to the new swimming pool. The new facility will clear the way for the creation of a new high school swimming team.
Mr. Hughes said he was excited for the start of the construction, after several years of planning and fund-raising. He said when he retired and moved to the Island several years ago, he had no idea he would be dedicating so much of his time to the project.
“It’s kind of turned into a second career — a no-pay, second career. But it’s a labor of love, and it’s all worth it,” he said.