Before the Andover-North Andover YMCA opened an 18-month renovation of its facility to the public, Vincent Cicerchia—a yoga aficionado who works out at the Y five days a week alongside his wife and two daughters—took a special tour of its new wellness area. Natural light fell onto workout spaces inside a modernist three-story glass box. New locker rooms sparkled. A yoga studio awaited its first sun salutations. Though some $750,000 of fitness equipment had yet to be installed, it was impressive even then, Cicerchia says. “I came back and told some of the other people I work out with: ‘You’re not going to believe what’s coming.’”
Now, nearing the end of a $23 million expansion, the Andover-North Andover YMCA is coming into form. The cramped, fraying building off Route 133 is no more: it’s new incarnation is double the size, and it’s been outfitted with all the hallmarks of a 21st-century fitness center. “If you haven’t been here in a few years, you will be awestruck,” says James Kapelson, vice president of membership development and marketing for the organization. But it’s not just about adding square footage. It’s about creating a community hub that will last for years to come.
Since opening in 1973, the Andover-North Andover YMCA—one of three branches under the umbrella of the Merrimack Valley YMCA—has been embraced by all walks of life, from working parents in need of daycare to senior citizens looking to stay active. “The phrase I use is from Pampers to grampers,” says Alex Turek, executive director of the Andover-North Andover branch. It’s become a beloved institution, a nonprofit providing more than $3 million of subsidized programs and services in the Merrimack Valley each year. But as the Y’s ranks swelled to 9,000 members, the building’s 50,000 square feet became inadequate. There were new demands for programming and just one exercise studio to host an entire catalog of classes.
More generally, the building that hadn’t seen a major update since the Nixon administration, and it needed a facelift. “The facility was good, but it was also becoming dated,” Kapelson says. “We wanted to make sure we were anticipating current and also future needs of our members, so we endeavored very hard to make what we could sustainable for the next 40 to 50 years without falling behind the times.”
After commissioning a feasibility study and lining up funding—a feat that included raising $8 million in donations from local residents and businesses, surpassing a self-imposed goal—they broke ground on the project in spring 2014. The next year and half featured a series of workarounds to keep the Y open during construction, like transforming half of the gymnasium into a treadmill-and-elliptical-equipped fitness area after the existing wellness center was knocked down. Overall, Kapelson says, the members displayed an enduring patience throughout construction. “We tried to constantly communicate to our members what was happening and when it was happening,” Kapelson says. “We felt that they could put up with inconveniences, but nobody likes to be surprised.” There was, however, at least one pleasant surprise: membership at the Andover branch ticked up even as the construction unfolded.
Days before the end of 2015, the expansion held a soft opening to introduce the membership to what awaited them in the New Year. “The entire building—top to bottom, front to back—has been redesigned and added on to,” says Turek. “It’s almost unrecognizable from what it was in 1973.” The transformation is evident as soon as you pull into the parking lot and see the giant, Y-symbol adorned glass box. Inside, five skylights in the high, vaulted ceilings beam sunlight through the atrium. Wander around and you’ll find the state of the art across all three floors: three new group exercise studios (in addition to their previously existing counterpart), a third swimming pool, an area devoted to weightlifting and boxing, and a dedicated cardio area outfitted with new treadmills, bikes, and elliptical machines. Elsewhere, there are expanded childcare rooms, an elevator-accessible center for active older adults with a lounge and exercise equipment, and renovated locker rooms. All told, the building has more than doubled to 104,000 square feet.
“In terms of sheer volume, we can satisfy so many more people that are interested in staying healthy in a variety of ways,” Turek says. “Now, we can connect people further and help them build relationships with each other because we have more space to do so.”
Of particular note, the expansion includes a 5,000-square-foot physical therapy space operated by Lawrence General Hospital. “The vision of the Y as well as the hospital is all about wellness, so it makes so much sense to bring physical therapy on site with the new facility,” says Dianne Anderson, president and CEO of Lawrence General Hospital. In the main physical therapy area, folks recovering from surgery or injury receive treatment, while on-site primary care physicians can meet with patients for routine physical exams and other wellness services in adjacent examination rooms. And in easing patients back into their old regimens, it’s a boon to be steps away from treadmills and free weights. “We’re basically making it more convenient for patients and giving them ready access to these kinds of programs,” says Anderson. “At the Y, it’s like one-stop shopping.”
The final stages of the renovation are still underway, with the gymnasium, a commercially licensed teaching kitchen, a café, and the facility’s administrative offices due for completion in the coming months. But for those who just want to work up a sweat, it’s already good to go. On Cicerchia’s first day working out in the revamped Andover-North Andover YMCA, it was a full house—a surge of New Year’s resolutionists, college students on winter break, seniors in the pool, and children streaking through the halls. The new building off Route 133 had all of the bells and whistles of a truly modern health club, but the spectrum of visitors proved that it’s reach went beyond gym rats and into the fabric of the community.
“You said the Y started back in the 70s?” Cicerchia says. “Well, it’s taking on its second life now.”
165 Haverhill St.