Y launches pool funds campaign

November 02, 2008|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

Since it opened in Abingdon a year ago, the Walter and Betty Ward Family Center - Y of Central Maryland has offered high-tech exercise and organized play to more than 7,000 Harford families. Now it is asking the community to help it make a splash.

The organization hopes to add a $3.5 million aquatic center that would mean swimming lessons and competitive teams, water aerobics and therapy, bleachers for spectators and a family play area equipped with sprinklers.

Volunteers have launched an 18-month "make-a-splash" capital campaign to raise money for the expansion. Pledges of $800,000 have jump-started the effort. One donor, who has asked for anonymity, has promised to match all donations up to $500,000, and the county will contribute $300,000, half of it now and the rest next year.

"The donor put a structure in place to give others an incentive to contribute," said John K. Hoey, president of the Y of Central Maryland. "The sooner we raise the money, the sooner we can break ground."

The addition, which would include two pools, would mean swimming lessons, swim teams for all ages, aquatic therapy and water skills exercise, all of which are especially useful to residents living in a county bordered by rivers and the Chesapeake Bay, he said.

"The Y has probably taught swimming to more kids in this country than any other organization," Hoey said.

The organization has flourished in Harford because of local generosity, Hoey said. The $7.4 million center, within a few miles of Interstate 95 and Route 24, is named after prominent real estate developers who sold 14 acres in the Box Hill Business Park to the organization at a reduced price.

The center opened the 30,000-square-foot building with a training room housing 130 pieces of equipment, each linked to computerized workout monitors, a 40-foot rock wall for climbers and a spacious gym in June 2007. Plans to add a 15,000-square-foot aquatic center were already in the works.

"People come to the Y and ask, 'Where is the pool?' " said Melinda Craig, co-chairwoman of the capital campaign along with David Worrell, a local business owner. "Now this Y will have one."

Plans call for a six-lane, 25-meter pool as well as a therapy pool, both of which would be accessible to disabled swimmers.

County Executive David R. Craig, whose wife is leading the fundraising effort, recalled learning to swim in the Susquehanna River. Practicing strokes in a pool with skilled instructors would be a safer experience than floundering in an unpredictable river, he said.

"Swimming is a life skill that those living in waterfront areas should all have," he said.

Even in the current difficult economy, Craig said he had little trouble convincing the County Council of the soundness of investing in the Y.

"For the last 20 years, the Y has provided Harford County with services too numerous to mention," said Craig. "We are proud to partner with this organization."

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