Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Y sweats out its first year

Organization exceeds expectations

Express Staff Writer

Just back from winning an over-60 baseball tournament in Ariz., Jim Jaquet of Ketchum pedals happily along in the YMCA’s gym. Photo by Willy Cook

A year ago this week, Wood River Valley residents anxiously awaited the opening of the Wood River YMCA's doors to the $22-million, 55,000-square-foot recreational facility at Ketchum's Park and Ride lot, along Saddle Road. It's one of 2,663 YMCAs in the country. Today, some 5,550 members from all over the valley swim, play, work out, climb, do yoga, dance and hold meetings there.

The facility features a multi-activity, warm-water and therapy pool, a "lazy river," toy features, a vortex pool and a 130-foot-long, 30-foot-high spiral slide. The Olympic-sized pool has five lanes. Sun pours through the windows and doorways that open onto a sundeck facing the mountains.

There are six locker rooms, two of which have continuous, self-cleaning steam rooms, a gigantic climbing gym and cave. Upstairs are gyms, an aerobics room, a "spirit room" for yoga and Tai Chi, and a community room where meetings and Live from 92nd St. Y are held. Physical therapist John Koth also has his office upstairs, off the gym.

Executive Director Teresa Beahen Lipman said it's been a productive year, but also a year with unexpected problems. Officials expected to see 3,000 people sign up in the first year. Instead, that number signed up within three months. By mid-summer, that number exceeded 6,000.

"It's a good problem to have, but our growth has far exceeded what we projected," she said. "That says the need was far greater than we realized. We learned you don't underestimate and you must try to over deliver. Assume the best-case scenario and you can always back down."

The new facility, she said, "got dirty quick."

"Our building is clean now," she said. "This community really wants to be together. I hear day in and day out that everyone feels welcome. That's a good feeling."

Some of the programs offered include Parent & Me Music, Get Fit Stay Fit, Zumba dance the 92nd St. Y's live broadcast program, YMCA Summer Camp, teen workshops, Y Rocks in Hailey and the Y-on-Wheels after-school program in Carey and Woodside Elementary School program in Hailey.

Beyond the array of programs the YMCA offers daily, it has also developed partnerships with groups like Sun Valley Ballet School, the Lee Pesky Learning Center and Koth Sports Physical Therapy. Also this year, the Y opened the Valley Resource Room with Wi-Fi, which provides free facilities for nonprofits and community groups to conduct meetings and workshops.

In so doing, the Y has become one of the largest employers in the valley.

"With part-time employees, there is a lot of churn," Beahen Lipman said. "There are 200 part-time employees when we anticipated 80. We had one position for a full-time bookkeeper and we were flooded with applicants. A lot of those are Realtors. Lifeguards are harder to keep. We now run a lifeguard class and we recruit right out of it and that strategy has worked really well. All management staff are also now trained to lifeguard too. We can step in if we need to."

Probably the darkest moment came in January when a young man from Hailey fell from the climbing wall. He was self-belaying at the time without supervision (the practice is now banned). Since then supervision has been cranked up and the Y has hired a full-time climbing wall director, Kat Vanden Heuvel.

The next building phase will be the ice rink, to be built where the large parking lot is now. The Y is currently accepting donations to a fund to support that. There is already $2 million in it, but the cost is estimated to be between $10 million and $15 million.

"We did pave that area, but we did it thinly and the city knows this so it can be removed easily, Beahen Lipman said. "With the economic change, it's hard to predict when we'll be able to do it. We're so fortunate that the board agreed to break ground on the building when they did or we wouldn't have the Y now."

This fall the Y will kick off its Y Partners campaign for scholarships for its Open Doors program, which allows people to apply for financial assistance for membership fees based on need, gross household annual income and family size.

"We have individuals and families who use the YMCA as a second home and a place to interact with their friends and neighbors," Beahan Lipman said. "The Y is quickly becoming a real cornerstone of the community. "

YMCA membership at a glance

By town of residence

Ketchum 38 percent

Sun Valley 23 percent

Hailey 25 percent

Bellevue 10 percent

By category

Family 26 percent

Adults 30-69 22 percent

Young adults 19-29 15 percent

Under age 18 33 percent

Over age 65 13 percent

Male 49 percent

Female 51 percent

Join the Party

When: 3-6 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 8

Where: Wood River Community YMCA, Ketchum

What: Pool games, bouncy castle, climbing wall, karaoke, Glow food and more

Cost: Free for everyone.

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