Seven months after the faltering Central Lake YMCA in Vernon Hills was sold and the facility saved from closing, an extensive renovation is well under way.
The Vernon Hills Park District expects to spend about $507,000 upgrading and modernizing the facility at 700 Lakeview Parkway as an affordable fitness option, and to make it more inviting for current and prospective members.
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Though many members bailed out in late October after the YMCA announced its financial difficulties and need to close, membership at the renamed Lakeview Fitness Center has surged from about 1,200 to 3,000 individuals since the park district assumed control Jan. 1.
"It's significant. We're starting to see this space will be necessary to spread our wings to accommodate the membership," said Jeff Fougerousse, the park district's executive director. About half of those are returning members and half new, including a "lot of families and seniors," he added.
The renovation is expected to be complete by mid-September, with a grand reopening planned for Oct. 19.
Behind-the-scenes-type improvements, such as upgraded electrical and mechanical work and alarm and music systems are part of the renovation package. But the changes expected to be most noticeable to members involve moving walls and reconfiguring space.
Group exercise and cardio/free weight areas will be expanded by about 40 percent each, according to the plans.
"These two amenities, that's our membership. That's what they use," Fougerousse said. "Besides the swimming pool, that's what drives our revenues."
The group exercise room, for example, is growing to 2,300 square feet and will occupy the former after-school program area, which was relocated to the district's Sullivan Center. That will allow class size to increase from about 25 to 40.
The former YMCA had an institutional "vanilla" feel, he said, and though only 13 years old, it will benefit from opening up the spaces and softening the appearance. That first impression will be immediate as a new entryway/vestibule will open to a 27-foot oval reception area being relocated from the middle of the building.
"I like the open format. The plans look really nice," said Vernon Hills resident Vijaya Rao, whose family stuck as members through the turmoil.
Fougerousse said the facility is turning the corner in terms of operating revenues versus expenditures.
"We kept our head above water in the month of June. I can't say that from January to June," he said.
Village officials, who persuaded the YMCA to build the facility and paid $500,000 toward construction, didn't want to see it close. After an intense several weeks of discussion, village officials agreed to lend the park district $2.025 million interest-free to buy the building and property, with no payments due for three years.
The park district was interested because it did not have an indoor pool or child care program. Little Learners child care is at about 60 percent capacity and will be the focus of an upcoming marketing campaign.