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Ann Morea and Sumei Shih during therapeutic water aerobics at the Huntsville YMCA on Friday.
DAILY Photo by Emily Saunders
Ann Morea and Sumei Shih during therapeutic water aerobics at the Huntsville YMCA on Friday.

YMCA in
Decatur -- Y not?

Phone surveys this week may help decide

By Paul Huggins
DAILY Staff Writer

phuggins@decaturdaily.com ∑ 340-2395

Though Thursday generally is one of the least popular nights at the YMCA in Huntsville, the parking lot is more than half full.

Inside that facility are scenes similar to what some would like to see in Decatur. More than a dozen adults work out in the expansive fitness room, while five other adults sweat away pounds and stress in a separate room for spin class.

Meanwhile, each of the three indoor pools has some activity, as do the basketball, volleyball and racquetball courts and the aerobics studio. Children play in each of two supervised day-care rooms.

It's much busier on Mondays and Wednesdays, when karate students and two high school swim teams come in, said Scott Mounts, president of the Heart of the Valley YMCA.

About 1,700 people use the fitness center daily, with peak use climbing to 2,500, he said.

Though the nearly $6 million facility has yet to celebrate its third birthday, it's dealing with overcrowding issues, and the YMCA already is planning expansion.

The growth of the facility and its programs since 2002 is almost magical, Mounts said, noting membership grew from about 200 four years ago to nearly 10,000 today.

"It's amazing what building a facility can do," he said.

A group of volunteers in Decatur believe a similar facility can have the same impact here and has persuaded the YMCA to conduct a market survey to determine if it's viable. This includes a 10-minute phone survey of 400 to 500 local residents beginning later this week.

The YMCA goes where it's wanted, Mounts said, and the market study will show whether Decatur wants it, as well as whether it can afford it and what, specifically, a Decatur facility would need to be successful.

An independent group will conduct the survey, and Mounts said the YMCA will receive only numbers; it will not know who was contacted.

The YMCA considered locating in Decatur four years ago. It proposed a joint venture with the city — sharing construction and operating expenses — to build a recreation center at the Jack Allen Southwest Recreation Complex.

Some Southwest residents complained it was unfair to have to pay membership dues for their neighborhood center, in contrast to the Aquadome, T.C. Almon and Carrie Matthews centers, where users pay nominal activity or program fees. City leaders decided against the joint venture but said they hoped the YMCA would come one day and locate centrally.

The location of the proposed YMCA is undetermined. Mounts said the location is often determined by a land donation from a private party.

If the YMCA decides to build in Decatur, it will follow a fundraising campaign that can last longer than a year. Construction wouldn't start until it reached 80 percent of the goal.

Huntsville facility

Judging by its growth, Huntsville's 54,000-square-foot facility is well worth the cost of monthly membership fees and, for some, well worth the drive from out of town.

Bianco Scully drives 40 minutes from Madison for yoga, spin classes, Pilates and aerobics. She brings her three children, ages 4, 3 and 2, and said she chose the YMCA because it had the best child care by far.

Parents have a choice of dropping off children at a toddlers' child-care room or at the Y Zone, a supervised play gym resembling a fast-food restaurant playground.

"I looked all around the city," she said. "It really is great for families and really reasonable to bring the whole family."

Regular families pay $68 per month, while single-parent and senior citizen families pay $58 and individuals pay $49.

That's comparable to a few local fitness clubs that offer child care, which range from $63 to $85 for family memberships and $29 to $60 for individual memberships.

Mounts said every YMCA is different, and it depends on what the community says it needs during the market study. He added that the YMCA built its recent success on filling voids and not trying to compete with established sports programs offered by the city. Many of its team sports programs are for preschool children and focus on sportsmanship.

The YMCA also serves as a community center, offering after-school programs, leadership clubs, monthly teen nights, neighborhood festivals and curriculum-based day-care programs.

Membership draws

The dominant feature of the Huntsville YMCA is the main fitness room, surrounded by windows on two sides looking out at Green Mountain. It has 33 cardio machines, free weights and pulley weights, and 17 weightlifting stations connected to a FitLinxx computer that keeps track of workouts.

First-time members get to start with a personal trainer. The fitness room also has nine televisions that exercisers can listen to via headphones.

"I think this is what brings in the members," Mount said of the main fitness room, which will update all its equipment every three years.

In the next room is a cycling studio, with 20 bikes used for spin classes, which Mounts said already needs to expand. The center also has an aerobics studio, basketball gym with elevated track, two racquetball courts and a teen room with big-screen TV, pool table, air hockey, foosball and table tennis.

It offers four locker rooms for boys, girls, men and women. The latter two each have their own saunas and steam rooms. There's an additional special needs/family locker area with three large rooms with handicapped-accessible showers that are large enough for a family with small children to use together.

The aquatic center features a 25-yard lap pool, warm-water therapy pool and shallow-water playground pool similar to Point Mallard's Squirt Factory. Outside the aquatic center is a sun deck with sand volleyball court.

Karin Mills, a Brindley Mountain resident, dropped her membership at the Huntsville Hospital Wellness Center to join the YMCA because it had more to offer.

She participates in water aerobics every day and likes the YMCA's separate warm-water pool. She also likes that the men and women have separate saunas and steam rooms.

The membership fees allow use of all the equipment and the nearly 50 aerobics-type classes offered each month. The YMCA charges extra fees for swim lessons and team sports programs.

Mounts said the YMCA never turns people away who can't afford membership fees and 163 families receive financial assistance.

You may get a call

A group of volunteers in Decatur believe a YMCA can have the same positive impact here as it has in Huntsville, and has persuaded the YMCA to conduct a market survey to determine if itís viable. This includes a 10-minute phone survey of 400 to 500 local residents, which will begin later this week.

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