AUGUSTA — The Kennebec Valley YMCA’s original building in Augusta didn’t quite make it to the organization’s 100th birthday, but long-time members say that’s a sign of the strength of the programs, not of weakness in the former building’s structure.

“That old building, when it was built, was the perfect location for that Y, right in the heart of downtown, where kids and families could walk to it,” said Harry Lanphear, board member and former chief executive officer. “It was a unique and special place that was, frankly, worn out from the use. That’s what you want — people flocking to their building and wearing it out.”

The YMCA in Augusta was chartered June 13, 1914, and, until 2006, called the stately columned building at the corner of Winthrop and State streets home. Over the years, thousands of children learned to swim and play basketball there, but leaders also sought to instill the YMCA’s core principles, reflected in its triangle symbol, of mind, body and spirit.

Jac Arbour, vice-president of the board, said he remembers first coming to YMCA at age 6 to play Biddy Ball for coach Jim Nichols.

“In the winter he’d never let us leave practice without a hat on,” Arbour said. “He’d always make us jump rope, and tell us, if you weren’t in shape, it’d be hard to be a competitive player. He focused on staying healthy, on and off the court. It wasn’t just about basketball.”

Arbour said when he first went to the YMCA, and even later when using the gym while home on break from college, he saw it as little more than a place to play hoops and work out.

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“Later I became much more aware of what the mission of the Y is, to be a place where young children can go and have structure that promotes a healthy lifestyle, where senior citizens can do something active and socialize,” Arbour said. “The Y is a breeding ground for a healthy lifestyle that starts young and goes through every stage of life.”

The Young Men’s Christian Association was started in London in 1844 when department store worker George Williams started a Bible study and prayer group for “young men seeking escape from the hazards of life on the streets,” according to ymca.net.

The first YMCA in the U.S. was formed at the Old South Church in Boston in 1851 and over the next 160 years it has evolved into an organization with a presence in 10,000 neighborhoods across the country.

NEW HOME

In 2006, the Kennebec Valley YMCA moved into its $10 million Union Street site, behind Capitol Park. It has a huge gym, fitness room full of cardio equipment and weights, racquetball courts, workout studio, library, children’s pre-school area and meeting space available for nonprofit groups to use at no charge.

It has two pools with daily open swims, a traditional competition lap pool and the “Healthy Living Family Fun Pool,” which is heated to 86 degrees and slopes gradually to allow users to walk in from a depth of less than an inch to its deepest point of seven feet.

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“It’s like going to the beach, you go in gradually, and people in wheelchairs can go in, too,” said Erika Bush, membership and marketing director.

Up to 50 swim classes are available, and the YMCA is the home pool for its own swim team, the Stingrays, as well as swimmers from Erskine Academy, Cony High School and Gardiner Area High School.

The new YMCA was built on six acres of land bought from the city with money raised in a massive fundraising campaign led by city resident John Bridge, whose family donated $1 million to the project.

The organization also raises about $200,000 each year in donations to provide scholarships to those who can’t afford the cost of a membership. Membership options include $144 a year for children up to age 12, $360 a year for senior citizens, $540 a year for adults and $816 a year for families and adult couples.

Tom Warren, who took the job of chief executive officer five months ago, encouraged anyone who wants to join but feels they can’t afford to, to ask about the scholarship programs, which can provide discounts of 20 to 75 percent of membership costs, based on need.

“We’re raising $200,000-plus with volunteer efforts, so we can fulfill our mission of being accessible to all,” Warren said. “That’s part of what makes us different. That’s part of the magic of the Y.”

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Kennebec Valley YMCA also has a gym in Manchester in the former Run for Your Life building, with fitness equipment, studio and an indoor track.

And the YMCA has two summer camp programs, Camp KV for Kids on Maranacook Lake in Readfield, and Julia Clukey’s Camp for Girls, hosted by Olympian Julia Clukey at Camp KV, for girls in grades four to eight.

AUGUSTA LANDMARK

The original building in Augusta was built in 1914 with money contributed by the family of Gov. John Freemont Hill. The building was listed on Maine Preservation’s Most Endangered Historic Properties List in 2006 and, despite efforts to save it, was demolished by owner Lon Walters in 2011 after he said he couldn’t find anyone interested in the building. The site remains a vacant lot today.

The YMCA celebrated its 100th birthday Friday with a barbecue, games, giveaways, a beer tent and fireworks at the new site on Union Street.

Lanphear said the new location was a good choice, giving the YMCA more space for parking and programs, while still being relatively close to the heart of the city.

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Warren, who has worked for YMCAs for 34 years, said while the mission of all YMCA’s is essentially the same, the level of community support enjoyed by the Kennebec Valley YMCA is unique.

“It’s about promoting health and wellness,” Warren said. “For 100 years, volunteers here have been impacting kids with being a good role model and teaching them good values. The spirit and energy here, the community coming together to meet that kind of need, are unlike anything I’ve experienced in my 34 years in the Y. This community is unique in that regard.”

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj


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