by Mollie Rushmeyer
A lazy river; a water slide; a two-story rock-climbing wall; the bright, shining floor of a new basketball court; a running/walking track; three gyms – oh, my! The brand new 106,000-square-foot St. Cloud Area YMCA (compared to the 40,000-square-foot space now) held its open house to show off those new features and others May 20 and opened May 30.
Hundreds of eager people waited in the cold and rain to tour the pristine, state-of-the-art facility located just across the street from the old building, on Stockinger Drive in St. Cloud. The $23.3-million amenity is the result of a partnership among the YMCA and the City of St. Cloud, as well as the CentraCare Foundation and major donors in the area (the Coborn Family Foundation, for example, purchased the eight-lane pool). The project began in March 2016.
Greg Gack of Sartell has been executive director for the last seven years at the St. Cloud Area YMCA and a YMCA employee for the last 20 years. He said he feels they (the YMCA and its directors) have heard the needs of the community and have listened accordingly.
“This community was lacking in a facility where families can recreate and be healthy together,” Gack said.
There are many new amenities: a Mind Body Studio, High Impact Studio, Cycle Studio, Youth Studios, expanded weight training area and racquetball courts. Gack is most looking forward to opening up the Kids Zone play structure for the families.
“There aren’t many things to do as a family that are cost-effective,” Gack said.
He said he hopes to serve the area’s families, not only adding additional programming to the roster but also having more room in the current programs. The Kids Zone will accommodate up to 150 children ages 6 weeks up to 11 years old, with a private bathroom, a room for holding birthday parties, and a special play area designed for those under 3 years old. And the day-camps that previously could accommodate 80 children will now be able to serve 135.
Current YMCA group instructor Missy O’Connell of Sartell, who took eager groups on tours during the open house, said she agrees with the sentiment the Sartell/St. Cloud area will benefit from the new building, especially the families in the area. She said when her oldest two of her four children were young, and she was a stay-at-home mom, she needed to get out of the house and wanted a place where her boys could “move.” She wanted a place with something more than a TV screen or coloring books to offer.
“I wanted an outlet,” O’Connell said. “I checked all the other places around here, and I was not impressed with the children’s areas. As soon as I saw the YMCA play area, that was it. I knew we could come here and they could get out (their) energy and move.”
She said it didn’t take long for her to go from member to personal trainer and fitness instructor as she found her interest in health growing. Now she has been with the YMCA for four years.
On May 20, O’Connell said the new YMCA was 95 percent done – with only cosmetic and “finishing touches” left. As of May 30, bright and early at 5 a.m., the facility opened for business, and judging by the immense crowd and palpable excitement, it is a welcome addition to the area for both individuals and families.
“We want the YMCA to be the front porch of the community, working together on weight management, lifestyle health and functional medicine (while) improv(ing) the health of mind, spirit and body,” Gack said.
Rushmeyer grew up in the Brainerd Lakes area then moved to St. Cloud to attend St. Cloud State University, pursuing a degree in community psychology and family dynamics. She now resides in Rice with her husband and their two daughters. Rushmeyer became a freelance reporter/ photographer with the Newsleaders in 2016, but her love of the written word started as a child. When she’s not writing news articles, she blogs, writes flash fiction, short stories and novels. She has been to Europe several times and enjoys travelling, spending time with her family, getting outdoors and reading.