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YMCA leases old Sallie Z. site

The Statesboro Family YMCA now has an 8-acre site with standing buildings leased for it by the YMCA of Coastal Georgia. The new Statesboro Family Y intends to start providing programs on the old Sallie Zetterower Elementary School campus in the first quarter of 2017, organizational leaders said last week.

Efforts to establish a Statesboro Y as an affiliate of the Savannah-based YMCA of Coastal Georgia have been underway almost two years. In June, a limited liability company named South Main PTP, as two-thirds owner, and local building contractor John Lavender, as one-third owner, purchased the former “Sallie Z.” school on East Jones Avenue from the Bulloch County Board of Education for $1 million.

Joel Smoker, YMCA of Coastal Georgia president, said the organization’s board approved a lease from South Main PTP and Lavender on Sept. 20.

“We never imagined, any of us, the volunteers or the Y staff, that we would have the opportunity to lock into 8 acres and have almost immediately available 50,000 to 55,000 square feet of indoor space,” Smoker said. “Yes, it needs to be fixed up, but that’s going to allow the Y to start its mission-driven programs far sooner than we ever expected.”

The expected scenario would have been to open a YMCA fitness center in a store front and hope to get a larger building after a few years. But now the Statesboro Family Y has classrooms, a media center and a cafeteria, as well as a gym available “with a little bit of fix-up,” he said.

The lease is for 99 years with an option to purchase, said Nick Propps, a real estate agency owner and Statesboro YMCA Steering Committee member who led in the search for a site.

Fitness center first

In the near term, the Y leadership intends to spruce up and equip the existing gym as a fitness center with programs primarily for families, senior citizens and teenagers. One of the two classrooms that are inside the north end of the gym will be used for the YMCA’s Child Watch program, providing activities for younger children for up to two hours while their parents work out in the fitness center. The other classroom will probably be used for classes in fitness activities such as aerobics or Zumba, Smoker said.

The nearest classrooms in one of the school’s two classroom wings could be used to creating a “spinning studio” with stationary bikes and an activity room for older children and teens, he said.

But while the Y volunteers and staff see most of the old school as a fixer-upper, the “round” or multisided building nearest the gym is targeted to be torn down. Like the gym, the multisided building is decades newer than the oldest portions of the school, which dates from the 1950s.

The committee looked at options for using the multisided building as a key part of the YMCA facility, but problems including a leaky roof and a large amount of plumbing threatened to make renovations costly.

So the building’s removal will be the first step in the renovation.

“The round building is going to be torn down, I would expect within the next 45 days, and then that will become the parking lot entrance and leave enough space for future expansion,” Smoker said.

Renovation to make the gym a fitness center will be limited to things such as painting, window replacement and removal of carpets, he said. The YMCA last week hired the Savannah architectural firm Felder and Associates to do detailed planning.

Phase 2

Already the YMCA has sketches for an addition, but how soon this gets built will depend on monetary support from donors, the organizers said.

The addition would extend alongside the current gym and provide an office, new rooms for Child Watch and Kids’ Adventure programs, two multipurpose rooms and a lobby. Additionally, two “future expansion” rooms, measuring 7,400 and 5,300 square feet, are sketched to be built on the end of the gym nearest Brannen Street.

By moving adult fitness activities to those big new rooms, the Y will then be able to convert the original 7,500-square-gym floor back to a gym for children, said Bob Mikell, who chairs the Statesboro YMCA Steering Committee.

“My goal is to as quickly as we can go to Phase 1 and 2, which will include restoring the gym as an actual gym because that then opens up the possibility of basketball, indoor soccer, volleyball, badminton – all kinds of things,” Mikell said. “If our summer is going to be as hot as this one was in the future, I think the ability to have climate-controlled recreation activities in the summer is going to be a growing need.”

Founders’ campaign

Meeting Friday at Pittman Park United Methodist Church, local steering committee members received updates on the lease, the facility plans and a founders’ campaign for money to make it all happen.

YMCA District Vice President Krystal McGee will oversee the new Y, working with a Statesboro YMCA Board of Managers whose members will now be recruited. The board will set policy and help with recruiting and interviews, but McGee will be responsible for hiring a branch manager, Smoker said.

McGee talked with steering committee members Friday about developing programs and partnerships within the community.

“Today we heard that there were a lot of gaps in services for our middle school and teenage kids in the Statesboro community, so we’re looking at some programs for them as well as some life-skills type classes, some educational, after-school programs and things like that, in addition to our traditional programs, which are our aerobic classes, our wellness programs,” McGee said.

Propps, as a volunteer on the founders’ campaign, said it has no specific goal yet. But he and Smoker said probably $1 million to $1.5 million is needed to get the YMCA going, and that donors’ generosity will determine how soon the addition can be built.

The lease of the property is for real rather than nominal rent, according to Propps and Smoker.

“We got a very fair deal for the market,” Propps said.

However, Smoker said the owners who bought the campus from the school system wanted to see a YMCA started here. This occurred after the Y could scarcely get some commercial property owners to return phone calls, he said.

“This was 180 degrees from that,” Smoker said. “They actually approached us, and the negotiation process in my opinion was probably one of the easiest I’ve ever been through in my life. It speaks to their caring for the community; it speaks to their desire to bring a YMCA into Statesboro.”

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