About this time last year, discussions about the imminent demise of YMCAs in Vernon Hills and Waukegan were fast and furious after the organization, citing substantial deficits, announced it would close the facilities.
That's when Vernon Hills officials dipped into their ample cash reserves to preserve a community amenity.
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After an intense several weeks, an agreement was struck to loan the Vernon Hills Park District $2.025 million interest-free -- with no payment due for three years -- to buy the 30,000-square-foot Central Lake YMCA building and property at 700 Lakeview Parkway.
Without missing a beat, the new owner took over operations of the renamed Lakeview Fitness Center this past Jan. 1. By then, many uncertain members had left and the park district faced a long list of necessary improvements.
"That was a better outcome than having the facility close or turned into something else," said Doug Nesbitt, a longtime member who stuck it out.
Since summer, the park district has been whittling away at the to do list. And while it never closed, the finished product is being reintroduced to the community from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday during a grand reopening featuring tours, demonstrations and other activities.
"We all knew it was the right thing to do to keep the facility open," said Jeff Fougerousse, the park district's executive director. The investment so far has been about $750,000, he said.
"Probably by the time it's said and done, it'll be close to $1 million," he said.
Aside from behind-the-scenes work, such as upgrading the electrical system and regrouping the pool, fresh paint was applied and carpet installed to soften what had been regarded as an institutional look. Other additions include full-sized lockers and an improved sound system.
"We've really warmed it up," said Matt LaPorte, who was hired last December as facility supervisor. "We've made it a little more modern."
Many of the changes involved reconfiguring spaces.
The old front desk, for example, was absorbed to double the size of the baby sitting room. The new one is a modern 27-foot oval-shaped station situated near the front entrance for improved security and a view of the child care area.
Relocating the after-school program to the district's Sullivan Center allowed the district to create separate group exercise and free weight rooms. Nine new treadmills and several other pieces of equipment were added to the cardio fitness area.
"A year ago, we were running 15 group exercise classes a week," Fougerousse said. "Now we're running 62."
At its peak, the YMCA had 4,500 to 5,000 individual members. There were about 1,100 when the park district took over Jan. 1, but that number has more than doubled to about 2,700, according to Fougerousse.
"We've seen a fair amount of new members coming in the last 10 days to two weeks," he said. Through Saturday, monthly and annual memberships for individuals, families and seniors are being discounted 20 percent.
Besides luring new members, the district wants to grow its Little Learners child care program at Lakeview. With 49 enrolled, the program is operating at about 63 percent of capacity.