OLD TOWN – It was the pool that started him thinking about walking in 1995.
Actually, it was the large number of people over the age of 55 who joined the YMCA after the therapeutic pool opened that got executive director Douglas Springer wondering what other kinds of services that population would use.
The Cyr Family Field House, which opened last month, was a big part of the answer. It also was designed to meet the needs of the Orono and Old Town high school track teams, who practiced running through school hallways in inclement weather.
“We built this facility primarily with volunteer labor and a lot of in-kind contributions,” said Springer during a recent afternoon lull in activities. “We spent $800,000 on this facility. If we’d contracted the whole thing out, it probably would have cost $1.6 million.”
The first meetings of the Young Men’s Christian Association in Old Town was held in 1890. Early members focused on Bible study, according to Springer. It was not until the 1950s when a house in downtown Old Town was donated to the organization that it had a permanent home.
It moved to its current location in 1978 when the W. T. Grant’s store closed. With the new addition, the Old Town-Orono YMCA occupies a total of 80,000 square feet, 95 percent of it on the first floor, according to Springer. In contrast, the Bangor Y occupies 55,000 square feet at its Hammond Street location.
That makes Old Town, a community of 10,000 residents, home of the largest YMCA in the state. City Manager Paul Mazzaccaro said that the new facility “certainly adds to the quality of life here and increases the number of activities available to people especially during the winter.”
The 23,000-foot addition at the eastern end of the Stillwater Mall looks like a big warehouse from the outside. Inside, however, is what runners and walkers consider “a piece of paradise,” according to Springer. The building has a banked running track on a balcony that rings the perimeter and a walking area downstairs along the outer edges of the building.
It also includes a permanent wrestling area, but most of the downstairs is devoted to the Y’s growing gymnastics program. Students can practice floor routines without worrying about bumping into walls.
Kids working on the uneven parallel bars can swing off into a six-foot deep pit filled with foam blocks until they perfect their dismounts. Pole vaulters can practice their graceful arches through the air while a snowstorm swirls around the building.
The walking track is pulling in new members at a rate of four a day, said Springer. January showed their biggest membership gain since the executive director took the job in 1984. When the therapeutic pool, which has the only wheelchair ramp in the area, was opened more than five years ago, the Y had less than 50 members over the age of 55. That figure quickly jumped to 350, according to Springer.
Students on the track teams at Orono and Old Town high schools are thrilled to be able to use the indoor track.
“It’s a good facility,” said Diane Vinal, Orono’s track coach. “The students get to pole vault there. We can high jump too, instead of using our own high school cafeteria. The kids can work on hurdles and they really like the pit. Because of the padded floor, they don’t get shin splints as often and they aren’t running outside in the cold, so they aren’t getting sick as often. It’s a whole lot different and better for them to be running around a track rather than down a school hallway.”
Other changes at the Y will include adding two new air conditioning units, moving the workout facility to a bigger room, putting in a learning activity center with computers that can be used by seniors during the day and students after school and working with the River Coalition to increase offerings to families in the community.
Springer said the Old Town-Orono Y is one of the few in the country located in a shopping mall.
“We are unique,” he said. “But, we don’t have parking problems – we have room for 400 cars. A local company plows the parking lot for us as a donation, so we always open at 5 a.m. In the 17 years I’ve been here, we closed early once on a Sunday afternoon. During the ice storm, we hooked up a generator and were a city shelter.”
The school department is planning to build a new elementary school behind the shopping center. Included in the plans is completion of the bike path to the back of the building. The Y and the school department are planning to share playing fields and other programs at no cost. Old Town teams use the facility at no charge.
Springer, 55, plans to retire at the end of the year. While he manages nearly 100 employees and the expanded facility, he takes little credit for its success.
“It’s not the money that made this happen,” he insisted. “It’s the combination of people willing to do the work and give the money that made this possible. This community made it happen.”
For more information on membership and programs at the Old Town-Orono YMCA, call 827-YMCA.