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YMCA Moves Closer To North End Opening

Greg Seay

July 13, 2009

The Greater Hartford Young Men’s Christian Association has begun final countdown toward completion of its newest community center in the city in 35 years.

When it opens in September, the $10 million, 44,000-square-foot facility at 444 Albany Ave. in the city’s North End will officially restore the YMCA’s permanent base for community fitness and services disrupted with the closing of its former downtown Jewell Street facility three years ago.

It also will mark the Y’s return to the North End, where until the late 1990s it operated a small branch in the city’s Stowe Village housing project, before the area was redeveloped into single-family tracts, officials said. The new Y abuts the historic Clay Arsenal and Upper Albany Avenue neighborhoods.

Restoring the Y, said Bea Powell, chairman of the Clay Arsenal Neighborhood Revitalization Zone, could be a catalyst for enhancing the pride and cohesiveness of residents.

“I believe it would be a strong force for teenagers, as well as the young adults and seniors,’’ said Powell, who has lived in Clay Arsenal since 1980.

The clock is also ticking for project superintendent Jim Lami with general contractor BBE — Bartlett Brainard Eacott — of Bloomfield.

Lami said his team and subcontractors — more than half of whom are minority- and female-owned firms from Hartford — have kept on schedule despite record rainfall and the confines of a 1 ¼-acre construction site (sold to the Y by the city for $1) sandwiched between narrow Bedford and Brooks Streets that hampered material and equipment deliveries.

Laying floor tiles and carpeting, and buttoning up the acoustic-tile ceiling are the last things waiting to be done inside the angular masonry-and-glass structure before furnishings arrive in August, Lami said. The two-story building was blueprinted to achieve Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification.

Andrea Allard, who is executive director of both the Downtown YMCA in the XL Center and the new community Y — formally the Wilson-Gray YMCA Youth and Family Center — led a recent tour of the building. Between 60 to 80 people will work at the Wilson-Gray Y, compared to 45 in the downtown branch, Allard said.

Designed around the Y’s 265-year-old mission of developing individuals’ spirit, mind and body, Wilson-Gray will have meeting rooms, an early child development center for youths ages six weeks to 5 years, basketball court, fitness center and women’s and men’s locker rooms, equipped with sauna and steam bath.

The Jewell Street Y, built in 1938 and expanded in 1972 with 11 floors of offices and transient housing, had those amenities, along with a swimming pool and racquet ball court. New owner Northland Investment Corp. plans to eventually replace the old Y with luxury condos.

While Wilson-Gray lacks the pool and racquet ball court, the seven-day-a-week center has some new amenities, such as a 30-foot tall, 20-foot wide climbing wall overlooking Albany Avenue. It also has a first-floor café, that will serve light fare, and a teen center equipped with personal computers that doubles as a senior center.

“This is the Y’s way of investing in a neighborhood that hasn’t had significant investment from other public and private entities,’’ said Greater Hartford YMCA President Kevin Washington.

Community Health Services, which is located next door, and the Urban League of Greater Hartford will collaborate with YMCA to provide members — whose dues will be on a sliding scale tied to household income — with programs on health and wellness and education. The Wilson-Gray Y expects to serve about 6,000 community residents its first year.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Business Journal. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Business Journal Archives at http://www.hartfordbusiness.com/archives.php.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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