The second oldest YMCA in the United States is beginning a new era in Springfield, Massachusetts with plans to expand.
The Greater Springfield YMCA is eyeing the location of a blighted long-abandoned car dealership building for a new headquarters in a campus setting that would include an outdoor athletic field along with a family center to serve a nearby public housing project.
Kirk Smith, CEO of the Springfield YMCA, said due diligence is taking place on the former Mutual Ford property at Bay St. and Berkshire Ave.
" That is what we are hoping to engage in. We are working with the city, the Springfield Housing Authority and the Regional Employment Board to figure out a course of action to move the project forward," he said during a recent interview.
The possible location for the new YMCA is just a block from the Springfield Housing Authority’s Robinson Gardens Apartments in the city’s Pine Point neighborhood.
Smith said he expects a fundraising campaign will start next year to raise money to build a new YMCA.
" We are looking at probably an 18 month proposition ( for the capital campaign)," he said.
The Springfield YMCA has been headquartered in a multi-story building on Chestnut Street in downtown Springfield since 1968. Smith said early childhood and after school education programs will remain there.
"We will keep a presence there. We may keep a wellness center for the young professionals who work downtown who use our facilities now," he said.
Smith said the YMCA is still striving to prevent foreclosure on the Dunbar Community Center, a century old haven for youth in Springfield’s inner city Mason Square neighborhood. The YMCA took over operations at the Dunbar center in 2011, but does not own the building.
" The good news is we serve over 3,500 people with 50 plus programs. The challenge is we are still in negotiations with the out-of-state mortgage holder. It has been difficult. We are trying to get to a discounted pay off to stave off a foreclosure," he said.
Last month, the Springfield YMCA reached a milestone in its 163- year history when Springfield attorney Jeffrey Poindexter was named chairperson of the organization’s corporate board. He is the first person of color to hold the position.
" It is both exciting, but also to some extent disappointing given where we are nationally with race," he said.
Poindexter said he wants the YMCA to focus on programs for youth but also to serve the Baby Boomers as they grow older.
The Greater Springfield YMCA has 115,000 members and program participants from 14 cities and towns.