Amy Mosser’s senior strength class was in the final stretch (pun intended) on a Friday morning at the Delaware Community Center YMCA.
“Engaged those abs,” she said, while the class and her stretched their legs with a resistance band on a mat. The exercise created a sea of legs in the air of a brightly lit colored room with light classic pop music in the background.
Mosser has worked as an instructor at Delaware’s recreation center for more than four years. The local YMCA, 1121 S. Houk Road, will celebrate its fifth anniversary of running the center and the city’s recreation programs at 7 p.m. Jan. 5.
And the time has flown by, Mosser said.
“There are so many different things” to do, she said.
Phyllis Messer was among the 11 people in Mosser’s class. She’s been a member for four years at the YMCA where she met her friend, Ann Kortz.
“All the classes we take are good,” Messer said, and the instructors are great.
“It gives you something to do,” said Kortz, who comes out to the YMCA three times a week.
The two are among the more than 13,000 members who enjoy the facility with its leisure and competition pools, rock climbing wall and multi-purpose gyms, up from more than 8,800 members in 2012.
The facility was intentionally named as the Delaware Community Center YMCA to reflect the community efforts that made it a reality, Homan said.
“It’s a community center first and foremost,” he said.
The need for a recreation center was identified with a community survey in the 1980s, said City Manager Tom Homan, but the vision did come to realization until the late 2000s. The city had started discussions in 1999 about an indoor recreation center with the Army National Guard and the YMCA.
Guard officials were considering at the time to close its armory, 79 W. William St., that was built in 1915, Homan said. They proposed a collaborative with the city to share the space of a new Guard facility. Delaware officials visited four centers in Minnesota that were shared between the guard and respective municipality.
While conversations were under way between the three parties, Citizens for Indoor Recreation, a grassroots group, started collaborating with the city to place an income tax levy on the ballot to fund construction of a recreation center. Co-chaired by residents Julie Weller and Thomas Hubbell, the group easily secured the signatures needed for City Council to place the issue for a vote in a special election on Aug. 5, 2008.
The levy would increase the income tax by 0.15 percent to generate $23.8 million over about 20 years. Unlike previous attempts, the funds would not only go to the center’s construction but citywide park and field improvements.
“It was the perfect collaboration to have those three entities involved,” Weller said.
“We poured our hearts and soul into this.”
The measure passed with more than 51 percent of the vote.
‘Quality of life’ enhanced
Construction of the $14.2 million, 75,000-square-foot community center was completed in 2011.
“We were looking to enhance the quality of life in Delaware,” said Gary Milner, who was Delaware’s mayor in 2011 when council voted 4-2 to approve a two-year contract for the YMCA to run the center and its recreation services including the Jack Florance Pool at Mingo Park and rentals.
City and YMCA officials said having the nonprofit manage the recreation center made sense.
“The tax levy funded the building but it didn’t fund the running of the building,” said Roger Hanafin, the Delaware YMCA’s family program director.
Additionally, the city questioned whether it made sense to incur the costs and time to replace the vacant recreation director position and have two competing programs.
“We can save money by letting them handle it,” Milner said.
“I think it has been a huge asset for the community.”
Although other duties leave him little time for the YMCA, Milner and one of the center’s contractors, Barry Williams, have got together each year to watch the Little Brown Jug since 2011 when the facility had a soft opening.
With the YMCA in charge of Delaware recreation, some substantial changes were made over the past five years. The city had about 20 recreation programs with a department staff of three people, while the YMCA now has more than 100 programs with 10 full-time directors and about 200 staff members.
The nonprofit not only kept existing programs at the same price, Hanafin said, but also expanded them such as offering an established basketball league to more age groups or to complement the Daddy-Daughter Dance with a Mother-Son Superhero Party.
“There’s so much more than there was before we started here,” he said.
Hubbell said the participation and membership alone is proof of the YMCA’s success.
“The ‘Y’ and city’s partnership has been marvelous,” he said. “… I think we’re defintely reaching a need in the community.”
The YMCA has provided convenience for Delaware residents as a one-stop hub to handle recreation-related needs, said Jeremy Byers, associate executive director of the Delaware YMCA.
He worked as the city’s programs director of its now defunct recreation department for nearly a decade before YMCA-control and continues to appear at the city’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board meetings to provide updates on programs and events and to receive input.
“I think it’s a win for the city and the ‘Y,’” Byers said.
“What did 13,000 people do before the ‘Y’ came?”
The YMCA district executive director of Delaware County agreed.
“I’m very proud of the service our Y has grown into over it’s 5 years in Delaware … I have been with the Y for 22 years, but not until coming to Delaware [four years ago] did I get to experience this high of a level of impact on the people in the community it gets to serve,” Matt Bruns said in an email.
“From our [Livestrong at the YMCA] program for cancer survivors to our diabetes prevention programs to our group exercise classes and variety of youth programs. I’m privileged to work with staff and volunteer leaders who put such great effort into ensuring that this Y is the beacon of hope this community deserves.”
Delaware has paid the YMCA nearly $192,450 on average each year since 2012, saving the city $537,000, according to information provided by city spokesman Lee Yoakum.
Councilman Joe DiGenova, 3rd Ward, and current Mayor Carolyn Kay Riggle voted against the initial contract in 2011. While Riggle could not be reached for comment, DiGenova said there were initial concerns about getting enough information about membership dollars and whether the city would need to increase its contribution each year.
“The YMCA has improved very much over the past five years,” he said in an email.
“I felt after three years they should have decreased the dollars the city would provide them.”
Some areas of improvement, DiGenova said, would include having the soccer program pay for renting the fields, have the YMCA contribute more dollars to maintain Mingo Park and have an outdoor pool at the recreation center.
“Otherwise I feel they have done a good job the last five years. Not a great job; but I hope the next five will advance them to that status,” he said.
The contract was renewed for a three-year period that will expire in 2017, unless council takes action.
City and YMCA officials hope to continue to grow the facility over the next five years, while improving awareness of its services to the public. That includes clarifying the line between the city and YMCA-labeled programs.
The Guard, which closed its more than 90-year-old armory in 2008, opened an additional 65,000-square-foot Readiness Center to the Delaware YMCA in 2015. When not in use by the Guard, the facility’s gymnasium, kitchen and meeting rooms are available to the YMCA and the city.
The area continues to become a campus of indoor and outdoor recreation, Homan said, after the splash pad opened at Veterans Park, in front the YMCA, in June.
Programs and classes are open to the community regardless of membership, which are more cost-effective for long-term use, Hanafin said.
Over the past five years the nonprofit has given out $750,000 to more than 1,000 families in membership scholarships and more than $1 million in program scholarships, he added.
YMCA programs generally revolve around the center, while the city’s are generally located throughout the community and have a a flat-based fee regardless of membership.
“I wear two hats, but it all goes towards the same thing,” Hanafin said.
Brandon Klein can be reached at 740-413-0904 or on Twitter at @brandoneklein.