Recreation center will be an asset to the area

As ceremonial shovels were thrust into the ground last Tuesday, a new era was launched for the Family YMCA of Fayette County. And for the city of Vandalia.

The groundbreaking ceremony, which attracted more than 50 community residents, was the culmination of more than 15 years of efforts to build a community recreation center in Vandalia.

Earlier runs at the project couldn’t put the funding together; however, due to the generosity of the late Hazel Simma-Kelly, this effort was able to succeed. A gift of $1 million from her, through the Old Capital Foundation, will fund the lion’s share of the $1.25-million building.

Located on 4 acres just east of the Kaskaskia College campus, the nearly 17,000-square-foot building will include a full-size gymnasium, a weightlifting and cardio area, a walking track, a multi-purpose room and locker rooms. A 23-foot extension was recently added to the building to allow for the addition of a racquetball court and an indoor batting cage. The site adjoins Miller Field, a 6-acre plot along Rock Island Avenue that the Mark Miller family has leased to the YMCA for use as athletic fields.

The reason that the recreation center has been such a persistent dream for so many area residents is – quite simply – that there is a need for it. For more than two decades, the YMCA has operated out of a second-story facility in the 100 block of South Fifth Street in downtown Vandalia. That location has not been ideal for the elderly or those doing rehab work to recover from an injury or surgery. And, because businesses operating on the first floor of that building couldn’t do business with too much noise coming from upstairs, some of the Y’s activities could not be conducted during business hours.

Furthermore, many of the Y’s winter youth league programs had to be scheduled around the accessibility of gymnasium space at local schools – which was often very difficult. Having its own facility will greatly enhance the organization’s ability to offer a full slate of programming at hours convenient to its members.

Even though the ground has been broken and the site work begun, the job is not yet done. To complete the building with the desired flooring and other features, and to support the construction of the racquetball court and a batting cage, another $175,000 must be raised.

If you haven’t yet stepped up to the plate to support the recreation center, now is the time. Even in these tough economic times, we have a unique opportunity to do something special. If enough of us give small gifts, the project can be completed in its full scope.

When completed next spring, the facility will be a tremendous addition to the community. John Ashdown, the Y’s executive director, put it this way: “For people looking to move to Vandalia, it shows that we have something to offer them that a lot of small towns don’t have.”

Another exciting aspect of the new building is its proximity to the Kaskaskia College campus. The YMCA and the college are already talking about programs that are mutually beneficial to both parties. Such a partnership further secures the future viability of the project.

Do your part. Help this dream come true in its fullest form. For more information, call Ashdown at 283-1258.

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