Moving into the former Warsaw YMCA gives Baker Youth Club the space not only to serve extra students but also to offer more to the older kids, says Executive Director Tracy Furnivall.
The after-school organization opened the doors Friday to the renovated former Y on East Smith Street. Now named the Lichtenwalter Center, in honor of former Director Robert “Coach” Lichtenwalter, it triples the space from their old West Market Street facility to 46,000 square feet with a capacity of over 500 students, Furnivall said.
Very little of the original interior features remains. Both pools have been filled in, the gym floor redone, the women’s locker room converted into two classrooms and the gymnastics room turned into a second gym for middle school and high school kids. A kitchen, cafe lounge and game room were also installed.
“The Y people were pleased with what we’ve done,” Furnivall said. “The youth still benefit from this facility and I think that makes them feel better. They were very generous on the purchase price, and I think what they’ve seen warrants that, that kids are still benefitting.”
Much of the $500,000 in renovations went into security, such as installing cameras to keep an eye on every nook and cranny of the building; cutting windows into some interior walls to give line-of-sight supervision; gating off stairways to keep kids all on the ground floor; and adding alarms to exit doors. The running track above the gym was carpeted and bordered with plexiglass in addition to the metal railing, and the rock climbing wall was removed.
Some spaces don’t have a dedicated use yet – there are rooms upstairs he said could be turned into public meeting rooms – and the trade-off for the extra interior space was losing all their exterior space. But Furnivall said he hopes to work out a deal with the nearby county fairgrounds to use outdoor space there.
BYC hasn’t yet introduced any new programs after the move, he noted, but they have been able to expand transportation to every school in the Warsaw and Wawasee districts. The new spaces dedicated to middle and high school students will also open up new program opportunities, such as life skill classes and philanthropy work.
“When middle schoolers came to the old place, they were surrounded by 100 screaming kids and there was nothing for them, so they left,” he said. “We want them to have a place to go and do homework, mentor younger kids and better themselves, academically, socially and economically.”
(Story by the Times Union)