Facility Profile - May/June 2003
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The Greater Good

Greater Decatur Y
Decatur, Ill.

By Jenny E. Beeh


Sometimes great things come from joining forces. Faced with two old, deteriorating buildings and the need for more space and a fresh image, the Decatur Family YMCA and the YWCA of Decatur and Macon County in Illinois decided to jointly develop a new 67,750-square-foot facility known as the Greater Decatur Y.

"The desire of the community was for us to work together," says Executive Director Daryl Sieplinga of the Ys' union. Especially considering both organizations' long history in the community: The YMCA was established in town in 1877, while the YWCA has been there since 1906.

But that's only part of the new facility's networking. Decatur Memorial Hospital (DMH) is also part the joint operational partnership, donating the seven-acre wooded site as well as providing improved health and wellness programs supported by DMH's staff and expertise. With all three organizations coming together, obviously many programs and operational tasks can be efficiently shared.

Funded through private donations, the $7.7 million facility features an eight-lane, 25-yard indoor pool; zero-entry, warm-water leisure pool; gymnasium with four half-court basketball areas and an elevated jogging track; racquetball courts; dance/aerobic/multipurpose rooms; daycare center; wellness center including a weight room; five locker rooms, including a special needs locker room; lounge; conference area; and a centralized reception and administration space. At $113.93 per square foot, project value was naturally an important goal. The total project (including soft costs and equipment) was $8.5 million.


Designed by BLDD Architects, Inc. of Decatur, the building is organized in two distinct areas: the membership areas (which are controlled spaces) and the non-membership areas (non-controlled spaces) to create a clear sense of circulation. The main entrance is defined by a massive, sloping masonry wall, which creates a sense of significance, a destination point as well as visually dividing the controlled and non-controlled portions of the building. This element, along with the trellis-like curved entry canopy, become living parts of the architecture as their ever-changing display of light and shadow trace the sun's path across the sky. The main entrance to the facility directs visitors to the control desk, which is adjacent to the main lobby and considered the heart of the facility, separating the controlled and non-controlled spaces.

Planners also wanted to create a sense of transparency in the facility, allowing members and staff to see from one activity space to another, thus creating a passive security system and reducing the staffing needs for observation.

The fitness center and leisure pool were positioned to take advantage of the exterior views, with the fitness center oriented to the street to create a sense of activity in the building during evening hours, drawing people in. Meanwhile, the Child Development Center has its own entry and identity connected with the main facility for easy access to programs, with a playground that takes advantage of the large shade trees to the north.

Interestingly, the four primary colors associated with the National YMCA of the USA are incorporated into the overall design: red for caring, blue for honesty, yellow for respect and green for responsibility.

However, just as impressive and unique as the facility itself is the overwhelming community support that was given to the project.


"The initial support from the community to raise what at that time was an unprecedented amount of money was remarkable," Sieplinga says.

But that was only the beginning. Since the building's grand opening in March 2001, membership in its first year jumped 160 percent, from 4,200 members during the design-build phase to more than 11,000 members within the first year of occupancy (well topping the mere 100-percent increase to 8,500 members planners were hoping for upon completion). In fact, planning is already underway for a 12,000-square-foot addition, including a youth lobby, a youth and family gym, a new weight room to expand the wellness program, two additional racquetball/handball courts, two additional multipurpose areas, and additional office and meeting rooms. With fundraising still underway through the summer, construction on the addition is slated to start in September.

The Greater Decatur Y has quickly made its mark on the community.

"Our goal is to provide the opportunity to serve the whole family, from childcare to youth sports to adult programming," Sieplinga says. The Y also serves a solid cross-section of the community, encompassing all demographics. In fact, nearly 20 percent of its members come from households with annual family incomes less than $15,000. Thanks to community support, no one is turned away.

Monthly memberships range from $34 for adults to $47 for families, though there is a sliding scale for those who need financial assistance. All in all, the new facility has turned out to be a real crowd-pleaser.

"It's busy at all times and has become a community gathering place." Sieplinga says.

In fact, the facility has almost become too popular.

"One of our fears is the issue of overcrowding," Sieplinga says, citing the classic Yogi Berra adage: Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded.

To avoid that scenario, the Y has already taken steps to reduce crowding, including publishing high-use times so members can better plan their schedules, offering a shuttle service to parking areas, extending building hours to spread out the use patterns and adding staff. Of course, the new addition in the fall will hopefully help with growing pains.

Overall, the finished facility's popularity has really proven to be a testament to all the ambitious fundraising efforts—and proved any original naysayers wrong.

"The most important thing is to cast an audacious vision, and people with catch on, from donors to participants" Sieplinga says. "Excitement begets excitement. Enthusiasm leads to enthusiasm."

He adds: "It also takes a passionate and committed staff and board."

For more information
Greater Decatur Y: 217-872-9622 or www.DecaturYMCA.org

BLDD Architects, Inc.: 217-429-5105 or www.bldd.com