By Juliana Torres
LARGO – At 5 a.m. Aug. 11, the new 36,000-square-foot Bardmoor YMCA opened its doors to members.
The new building, at 8495 Bryan Dairy Road, is triple the size of the space it occupied at the nearby Baycare Outpatient Center Hospital, a space that it has long outgrown, said David Jezek, CEO of the YMCA of Greater St. Petersburg.
“It’s neat to see it come to fruition after you’ve worked so hard to pull it all together,” he said. “We want to deepen our impact on the lives of those that we serve and expand our footprint.”
The Bardmoor branch has been servicing the Largo community south of Ulmerton Road for 14 years. The new “beautiful facility” will allow the YMCA to serve up to 14,000 people from the community, Jezek said.
“It’s more than just the building. It’s the people in the building and our ability to build community within,” he said.
Along with a full gymnasium, group exercise room, dedicated cycling room, outdoor sports field and a cafe, the new building includes the first YMCA early learning preschool center in Pinellas County. The school will serve up to 120 children ages 2 to 5.
“Because of the unique location being in a business district, we think it really will serve a need for those in the surrounding area,” Jezek said. “The state-of-the-art preschool will accommodate generations to come.”
The full-day preschool completes YMCA’s vision to become a one-stop-shop for all generations – from children to grandparents – to exercise and play in their own way, said Beth Maday, executive director of the Bardmoor branch.
“Everyone can gather, and we’ve created spaces for them to have some family time or for friends to sit,” she said. “It’s not just a gym. We’re so much more.”
Even before construction was completed, YMCA members were coming in to see the new facility for themselves. Their delight and awe was “the most fun for me,” Maday said.
“People have health goals. They have social goals. They have places they want to volunteer. And to see them look at this and go, ‘Wow, I can picture myself here,’ – it’s really exciting,” she said.
The new building will allow the Y to expand its diabetes prevention program as well as the LIVESTRONG program, which has helped more than 100 cancer patients regain their health. The current LIVESTRONG participants are excited to hold their graduation in the new facility in October, Maday said.
The new YMCA was designed to accommodate its surrounding community. Given the demand for cycling, a whole room in the facility will house stationary bikes. Group exercise classes will take place on a suspended floor that will have less impact on joints. The facility has three private family changing rooms with their own showers, for parents who don’t want to send small children to the locker rooms alone. The Tropical Smoothie cafe is next to the Kid Zone, where parents can drop children off to be supervised while they work.
Jezek said he anticipated partnerships with the surrounding businesses in the area, perhaps including incentive programs to encourage employees to exercise or basketball pick-up games between different companies. The group exercise schedule is designed to accommodate exercise on lunch shifts for all shift workers in the area, Maday said.
Even the construction partners for the facility – Ed Taylor Construction, Harrod Properties and Elevation Architecture – understood the vision and the impact the new building would have on the community, taking care in the craftsmanship of their work, Jezek said.
“What’s really been encouraging is their attention to detail,” he said. “They see the reason we’re here.”
The project was a unique one for general contractors Ed Taylor Construction. Project superintendent Ed Minter said he was very hands-on in the project, working directly with Maday to fine tune different details.
“From the footings up, right to handing her the keys,” he said.
The YMCA leased the space in the 12,000-square-foot space in the outpatient center.
“We will own this. We’re here long term. This is a long term commitment of our organization,” Jezek said.
The preschool will open enrollment as soon as the new playground is constructed, hopefully within the next two weeks, said Ashley Fogel, preschool academy director. The same company that constructed equipment at Largo Central Park will build the playground.
“That’s all we’re waiting on,” Fogel said. “We’re really excited.”
The wide hallway between the large and colorful classrooms is
separated from the gym side of the facility by double doors that will remain locked unless the children are using the gym facilities.
Each of the classrooms are about 850 square feet and are equipped with a Smart Board and plenty of space to play. The preschool will offer extended hours Monday through Friday, 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
“A lot of kids … are here in the care of us more often than home, so this place is really a good, large area for them to be super involved in a lot of stuff,” Fogel said. “It’s a good preschool program.”
The parents of the preschool children will become part of the Y family immediately, Maday said. Often, a YMCA is second only to a family’s own home and perhaps their church.
“Their wellness is here, their childcare is here. It just becomes part of their whole routine,” she said. “It becomes a place they spend a lot of time.”
The facility first broke ground in January. Amidst several months of construction and preparing the new facility, it can seem like “you’re just moving equipment and paper,” said Maday.
“But we’re not. We’re moving people,” she said.
For more information about the Bardmoor YMCA or to register for the preschool academy, call 394-9622 or visit www.stpeteymca.org.