WATERVILLE — Harold Alfond Foundation Chairman Greg Powell announced Thursday that the foundation is giving the Alfond Youth Center a $6.12 million grant to develop a whole family wellness project at its North Street facility.

About 75 youth advocates, city officials and others turned out for the announcement at the Alfond Center, where the project was unveiled.

An addition will be built on the right side of the current facility, and renovation of the existing building will create space for programs that promote the health and well-being of families.

Ken Walsh, president and chief executive officer of the Alfond Center, said he expects construction to start in late spring or early summer and the hope is that it is completed by Thanksgiving. Harriman, of Portland, is the architect for the project, and Sheridan Corp., of Fairfield, is the contractor.

The wellness center project comes at a time when Waterville is on the move with downtown revitalization and other activity happening, including the expected move of the Children’s Discovery Museum from Augusta to College Avenue, according to Walsh.

“I’ve been here 25-plus years, and to see what’s happening is transformational for this community,” he said.

Walsh said two major objectives of the center are never to forget youth and to make sure they come first, and to focus on the importance of family and blended families. The Alfond Center is licensed to accommodate 250 children in its after-school program, and the wellness project will increase that number to 500, he said.

“We’re very excited about this project, and we’re very excited about being part of the renaissance of Waterville,” he said.

The first floor of the Alfond Center will be renovated to include a youth wellness center, a teaching kitchen with a nutritionist and chef, an indoor turf field, an additional gymnasium and family locker rooms. The second floor will have an adult wellness center with fitness equipment, a child care center, a health care partner and an indoor running track. A welcome center, a teen space, a gathering area, community gardens and a greenhouse, plus 100 more parking spaces will be added as part of the project.

A Waterville native, Powell recalled visiting the Alfond Center in 2006 with its benefactor, Harold Alfond, where they saw a little boy sitting in the kitchen, hair tousled and shoelaces dangling to the floor, a look of contentment on his face.

They didn’t know who the boy was, but at that moment, Powell and Alfond knew the boy was in a safe place and that because of the people working there, the boy would have an opportunity to succeed, Powell recalled.

Today, as the center turns to a new chapter in its history, Powell said he can envision the little boy in a beautiful new kitchen, his mother there with him, and they are learning a better and more healthful way to eat.

As Harold Alfond and his wife, Bibby, who loved Waterville and lived there many years, were honored many years ago to support youth programs, the Alfond Foundation is honored to continue to do so, Powell said. Their son, Peter, who died last year at 65, was a valuable member of his father’s board of trustees and had his own philanthropic organization. He believed deeply in and promoted community wellness, according to Powell.

“If you wanted to know about the road to healthy living, Peter could always be counted on to say a word — or two or three or four or five,” he said.

Brent Burger, chairman of the wellness center project and former chairman of the Alfond Center board of directors, said the wellness center project has been two and a half years in the making. The new center aims to promote health and well-being for entire families, so they may achieve total wellness in mind, body and spirit.

“This new development will adjust our focus on the health and well-being of the entire family unit,” he said.

More than 15,000 square feet will be added to the building to create the wellness center, he said, and 59 parking spaces will be added on the right of the building and 65 spaces will be developed across North Street. The staff in the teaching kitchen will work with children and adults so they may learn how to cook with ingredients they have in their homes, Burger said.

“We’re going to make sure that what we do here people can replicate at home,” he said, adding that a farm-to-table program with gardens already exists at the youth center. The community gardens will move across North Street as part of the project, he said.

Burger thanked those who turned out for Thursday’s event.

“Thank you for supporting us. This is huge for the community,” he said. “It’s even bigger for the children and the families that it’s going to serve.”

Waterville native Sue Hawkes, a member of the Alfond Center’s board of directors who has been involved in the youth organization since the 1960s, said the sense of community in Waterville runs vast and deep and she is pleased and honored to be part of the Alfond Center. While she now lives in Boston and her two sisters live in Arizona, she continues to spend summers on Great Pond and has a strong connection to the area.

“I have to say that the opportunity that I’ve had to reconnect with Waterville has been so special and so rewarding,” Hawkes said.

She said the socio-economic and demographic profiles of the city are vastly different from what they were 50 years ago, and it is important people look at what is needed to grow.

“I think one of the things that’s so special about this town is the sense of giving back,” she said.

Waterville Mayor Nick Isgro, who was in the audience, praised the wellness project effort.

“I think it highlights once again the incredible commitment to community that those connected to Waterville have,” Isgro said. “I particularly commend Ken Walsh and his fervent dedication to the children that he serves in our community, and I give a special thanks to the board of directors and to Greg Powell and the Alfond Foundation for their never-ending support of the community.”

Also attending were Waterville businessman Bill Mitchell and his wife, Vicki, who own GHM Insurance Agency downtown and bought two buildings on Common Street as part of downtown revitalization. They also bought the former American Legion Hall on College Avenue, which will house the Children’s Discovery Museum.

The Mitchells said the city is fortunate to have the support of the Alfond Foundation, as well as that of Colby College, which spearheaded revitalization, and the community as a whole rallies around outstanding projects that benefit everyone, including children.

“We’re enjoying the work that we’re doing and try to support all the good initiatives that come to play throughout the community,” Bill Mitchell said.

City Manager Michael Roy said the new wellness center project is a continuation of the renaissance happening in the city. The Alfond Center was part of the beginning of revitalization and now it is adding to that work, according to Roy.

As people milled about after the announcement, Walsh said 17,000 children in Maine are cared for by people other than their parents — whether they be grandparents or aunts and uncles — and many of those children are in the Waterville area. He said that with the wellness center, children will see their parents or guardians working out in the fitness center and learning why fitness is important. They also will learn, with their families, about healthful cooking and eating, he said. Guardians or parents will be able to work out, free of charge, in the fitness center.

“If you don’t have the means to pay for membership, you will have the opportunity to work out, use our fitness center for free,” Walsh said, recalling something his mentor told him many years ago.

“Harold Alfond always told me, ‘Those who can afford programming, make sure they pay the market rate; but those who cannot, make sure you take care of them,'” Walsh said. “I’ll never forget that.”

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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