'Shabby' Y turns cool and sleek with central air, new equipment ELLICOTT CITY/ELKRIDGE

September 20, 1993|By Sherry Joe | Sherry Joe,Staff Writer

For the past eight years, Eric Kindt had tolerated aging exercise equipment, a leaky roof and cramped rooms at the Howard County YMCA.

But the biggest problem, he said, was a lack of central air-conditioning.

"It was a matter of . . . discomfort," Mr. Kindt said, searching for gentle words.

Now, the Ellicott City man and others can exercise with greater ease at the newly refurbished YMCA in Ellicott City, formally known as the Howard County Family Branch.

A grand reopening took place Sept. 11, after a three-month renovation that included enlarging the fitness center, repairing the roof and installing central air-conditioning.

"We pretty much gutted the building," said Roy R. Felipe, executive director. "It was loved to death, like the Velveteen Rabbit."

The 23-year-old building, the only YMCA facility in the county, last underwent renovation in 1988, when the parking lot was repaved, the roof repaired and the floors refinished.

Since that time, however, the building had fallen into disrepair.

"The locker rooms were shabby, the flooring was all worn out, the ceiling leaked," Mr. Felipe said.

In the latest renovation, which began in May, workers repainted the interior, installed new carpets and tiles, and refurbished both men's and women's locker rooms.

New treadmills, stair climbers, and other exercise equipment were added to the fitness center. And a shaft for a wheelchair lift was built, a step toward complying with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

Repairs cost $700,000, which YMCA officials raised by soliciting corporate donations and refinancing the mortgage on the building. "This was the big push," Mr. Felipe said of the renovation. "Now we have some follow-up things to do."

The remodeled YMCA has created a stir among longtime members. "I didn't know the place when I walked in," said Iris Goehring of Ellicott City.

Since it reopened, the county YMCA also has attracted about 30 to 40 new members.

"We've been swamped by people from the neighborhood, people who have never been here before," said Mr. Felipe, who added that there are about 2,000 members.

The Greater Baltimore YMCA, of which the Howard County branch is a part, is the fastest growing center in the nation, he added. Total membership in the Baltimore metropolitan area already is 50 percent ahead of what it was at the same time last year, he said.

In Howard County, people are joining because of the YMCA's social atmosphere and diverse programs, Mr. Felipe said.

This fall, the YMCA offers more than 40 classes, including weight-training, karate, scuba diving, gymnastics and water fitness classes. Membership prices range from $80 a year for youths to $384 a year for families. Single members pay $276 a year.

But the Howard County branch is more than a place to exercise, members said. "It's a support group," said Ruth Masters, a 19-year member who participates in water fitness classes.

Ms. Masters, who suffers from glaucoma, is legally blind. She gets to the YMCA with the help of other members, who drive her to class and take her back home.

Sometimes she and her friends go out for coffee after class. "It's a social club for a lot of people," Mr. Felipe said. "People are missed when they're not around."

A year ago, a longtime member who participated in a water fitness class died of cancer. YMCA members dedicated a pool-side wheelchair lift in her honor.

Some members credit the YMCA with improving their health. Ms. Masters said exercising at the center five or six days a week has stabilized her glaucoma for the first time in years.

"The 'Y' is the best thing for you," she said.

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