Facility Profile - October 2013
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No Shortage of Ideas
Salem Family YMCA in Salem, Va.

By Joe Bush

It takes a child to expand a YMCA.

That's the feeling you get when discussing the 8-month-old renovation to the Salem Family YMCA with that facility's former Vice President of Operations Mark Johnson. (Johnson is now president and CEO of YMCA of Roanoke Valley.) Johnson and his staff take the business of helping kids very seriously; when asked about the impact of the $1.7 million expansion and renovation finished last December, Johnson doesn't mention membership recruitment or retention first.

"The space became exactly what we needed," Johnson said. "Members feel invested, way more children are being served. We are not about facilities. Buildings are simply a tool to do our mission. This tool is working.

"Our educational summer camps are larger than they have ever been. We serve 25 percent more teens in the new teen room than we did in the past. This means more kids doing things that enrich their lives in a safe environment than ever before. That is who we are and that is what this expansion is helping us accomplish."

Johnson said a daughter of one of principals of the builder, G&H Contracting, her family already members of the YMCA, told her father to "hurry up and get her room done." She meant the space for children 5 to 7, which indeed was refreshed and expanded. Teens also had their recreation room spruced up.

The Salem YMCA opened in 2004, and Johnson said by 2007 it was clear it was outgrowing its space. YMCA partner SEER Analytics conducted a member satisfaction survey that found that customer service and programs rated highly and many suggestions involved the facility. The survey was a guide to the renovation planning, combined with input from architect Richard Rife of Rife Wood Architects and the YMCA staff.

An example of the value of the latter: A personal trainer who trained a lot of elderly members wanted to be able to do floor-based exercises with them, but it was simply too much for them to get up and down. As a result of his input, renovation plans included a raised stretching area that was built at chair height.

"It meant elderly members could simply sit, lay back, do the exercise, then stand back up from a seated position," Johnson said. "All of the members like this as well because it distinguishes the space and keeps other members from nearly stepping on you."

Johnson said he and his staff used stories and pictures from this magazine for ideas on decoration. "I told staff not to bring me ideas without a visual," he said. "We created a full book of ideas from the ceilings to the floors to storage from pictures we clipped out of Recreation

Management magazine. The result is the spaces turned out to be exactly what we were looking for."

Johnson said planning for the renovation evolved from looking at each space to considering the entire interior as one area. In all, 9,000 square feet was added, with another 5,000 interior square feet renovated. Group exercise space grew by 50 percent, youth programming space by 90 percent and the teen center by 30 percent. Much of the new space created went to the wellness center, the area for fitness equipment with a great view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Twenty new pieces of cardio equipment increased the wellness center total to 80, while 11 new weightlifting pieces boosted the total to 30.