YMCA making place in the city

Purchase of old school will expand services to central Westminster

September 09, 2007|By Ellie Baublitz | Ellie Baublitz,Sun reporter

The YMCA of Central Maryland is the newest owner of the old Westminster High School and a former inn and restaurant on South Center Street.

With the recent purchase of the building that housed the Westminster Inn Bed & Breakfast and Maria's Restaurant, YMCA officials are looking to bring their family-oriented programs closer to downtown Westminster.

"Our interest, when we became aware that there may be an opportunity with the building, is, it's an older building in the center of Westminster - it has character, history and location - it's very strategically located in the middle of Westminster," said Jeff Sprinkle, chief philanthropy officer for the YMCA of Central Maryland.

Carroll County YMCA Family Center director Mike Walters said the building's purchase from the Maryland School for the Blind "is going to be a well-needed change to be able to expand what we can do for the community to serve different areas that may be needed."

Westminster Mayor Tom Ferguson said that while it is never good to lose businesses, having the YMCA downtown will be an asset to the city and a positive replacement.

"They'll be able to do more outreach in the inner city and reach a good deal more of the population," Ferguson said.

The Carroll YMCA serves a membership of about 5,200 individuals at its center at 1719 Washington Road, plus before- and after-school care at seven sites, a preschool day care center, Chipmunks program, summer camps and activities for all ages.

Plans for the building - three stories with basement - at the corner of East Green and South Center streets call for a state-of-the-art health and wellness center comparable to other YMCA facilities and a child care center with a play area outside in the courtyard, Sprinkle said.

The YMCA hopes to start construction on the child care center by December. Work on the health and wellness center will have to wait until the East End Complete Fitness Center moves out by the end of March, when its lease expires, Sprinkle said.

Two years ago, the building was given by the inn's owner, Mark Gross, to the Maryland School for the Blind. The school had hoped to use the three businesses as a vocational training center for its clients, but the idea never came to fruition, said Sprinkle.

"The school became the operating directors of Westminster Inn, but we found that operating the facility was a significant undertaking, and we were devoting resources to the inn rather than providing services to the visually impaired in Maryland," said Steve Koren, a board member and spokesman for the school.

The school decided to sell the building and approached the YMCA, which offered $1 million for the property, Koren said.

"We approached the Y because they serve so many people, and we're doing the community good," Koren said. "It's truly a situation where everybody winds up ahead. It's a win-win situation for everybody."

Koren said the school would put the money from the sale in its endowment fund for its students.

Donna Bair, who owns East End Complete Fitness, said her plans are up in the air. She is looking for another location, but she said she needs the right place to accommodate all the facilities and programs she offers at East End, including an indoor track and basketball courts, group fitness studios, racquetball, a pool, whirlpool, sauna, steam room and cardio room.

"I'm probably going to end up selling it all, is my guess," Bair said. "I don't want to open up another club just like the other clubs. You have to be a little different product if you want to succeed. I'm looking at my options."

Bair said she has about 500 clients, 300 of whom have been with the club 10 years or more.

Walters is hoping the new building will be able to provide services and programs beyond what the YMCA already does. He would like to be able to offer more programs for senior citizens as well as children, have competitive and noncompetitive sports leagues, maybe help fight childhood obesity, and expand through business partnerships.

"Personally, I think it will help us increase our awareness and what a YMCA can do for communities," Walters said. "With so many people not able to have transportation to our current facility, three or four miles from downtown, this allows folks to be within walking distance and be able to participate in programs in a safe atmosphere."

The new center "will let people know what the YMCA is typically known for - being in the community, being a safe haven, a place for kids and youth to be able to hang out in a safe place," Walters said.

ellie.baublitz@baltsun.com

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