It’s been 85 years since 12 Bristol High School boys laid the foundation for what would become the YMCA of Bucks County. They simply wanted an after-school recreation program, which didn’t exist at the time. Little did they know, their efforts would eventually result in a countywide organization that serves 60,000 people annually through its five branches, six youth education centers and eight camp locations.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the Fairless Hills branch, located at 601 S. Oxford Valley Road, has served as a hub for locals most in need. Emergency child care was provided, the homeless were invited to shower, and volunteers delivered meals to those who couldn’t safely leave their homes. Over 10,000 people were served last year, 1,700 of which were seniors. According to board chair Todd Hurley, the Y is much more than a “swim and gym.”
Despite its powerful work, the location didn’t look the part. After not being touched for some time, the Fairless Hills branch is receiving a complete, year-long overhaul. YMCA leadership, members and donors recently united for a virtual groundbreaking ceremony via Zoom to celebrate the organization’s next chapter. A video was shown of the demolition, which took place prior to the online event.
YMCA of Bucks County president and CEO Zane Moore shared a quote from the Fairless Hills location’s original groundbreaking ceremony in 1959 that still holds true today.
“It is no secret that the Lower Bucks County YMCA organization has been dreaming of a fine, modern, properly-located home for its essential and expanding programs. It is a dream that will reach out not only to youth, but to every member of the family. It will serve people of all races, all creeds and colors, is non-sectarian and is the embodiment for the ideals on which America was found,” read Moore. “I’d say finer words have never been said. This Y has stood the test of time and has been expanded on several times.”
The $12 million project includes reconfiguring the space within the building to gain additional usable square footage, while at the same time decreasing the building footprint to create additional and much-needed parking. The gymnasium, walking track and pool will be painted and refreshed, with an observation area added to the aquatics center.
Plans also include an expansion of the fitness center to accommodate additional cardio equipment and free weight space as well as a dedicated space for NovaCare Rehabilitation. Also, a new universal locker room with private changing rooms is being constructed, and the exterior of the building will undergo a facelift. The building will be completely ADA accessible.
The branch will be closed during the renovations, with completion anticipated to be in January 2022. In the meantime, programs and services are being provided at the nearby St. John Church Education Center (fitness/group), Saint Frances Cabrini (summer camp) and the Y’s other branches.
Virtual programming through Y Wellness 24/7 is also available exclusively to members, providing live and on-demand group exercise, sports and play programs. Other classes include mindfulness, nutrition and stress management.
Chief development officer Debbie Sontupe thanked the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and Gov. Tom Wolf for granting the Y $4 million in Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program grants, which helped make the renovation a reality.
“This is a significant investment in the Lower Bucks community,” she said.
Sontupe also thanked Sens. Tommy Tomlinson and Steve Santarsiero, who were instrumental in securing funding.
“It’s important that we continue to invest in the organization that invests in our community,” said Tomlinson.
Present on the Zoom call was Dan Bradley, president of Select Medical Outpatient Division of NovaCare, which will run rehabilitation services within the new branch when completed. NovaCare was a lead partner in the renovation project.
“All of us ask each other each morning, ‘Why do we come to work?’ And that’s to serve others,” he said. “The partnership with the Y exemplifies two cultures that have come together serving those who need us. This is an opportunity for both of us to give back to the community.”
Attendees also heard from YMCA member Amy Kenny, who joined the Fairless Hill branch many years ago after losing both of her parents. She had a void to fill in her life, and found it at the Y.
“It wasn’t just a physical thing. It became an emotional place for me to go and there was support for me. I look at the Y as not just a community gathering place, but like a family,” she said, adding that walking into the branch feels like a Cheers-esque experience. “Everybody knows your name, whether it’s whoever is working the front desk or the lifeguards at the pool. That’s the one-on-one experience you get from the Y, and that’s what a lot of us need right now. I can’t wait for it to reopen.”
Appreciation was shown for all donors to the renovation. There will be a community mosaic displayed inside the facility recognizing gifts between $1,500 and $10,000. Donations are still being accepted.
Visit ymcabucks.org for more information.
Samantha Bambino can be reached at email@example.com