YMCA to open strength center Monday
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YMCA to open strength center Monday

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CEO Chris Reese misses the sound of children’s laughter that usually fills the Mid-Willamette Family YMCA, especially the swimming pool area.

Like thousands of other buildings across the state, the YMCA went nearly silent in March.

That’s when public places were shut down as part of Gov. Kate Brown’s shelter-in-place executive order to attempt to flatten the curve of the COVID-19 pandemic that has claimed more than 100,000 lives nationwide, more than 150 of them them Oregonians.

But starting Monday morning, the “Y” is going to get its heartbeat going again — slowly at first — with the opening of its strength and cardio facilities. It will be open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

“We have had three rehearsals,” Reese said Thursday afternoon as members of the community were welcomed by newly trained staff. “We already had a rehearsal for staff and for our board members. We will keep doing it until we get it right and then we will continue to make things better.”

Reese, who has a military background, calls it “improving your foxhole.”

The YMCA hasn’t been completely closed, Reese said.

“We have provided childcare for first responders, about 20 children per day,” Reese said. “And, we have handed out breakfast and lunch bags to about 120 families per day.”

But other activities have gone virtual, Reese said.

There are strength training sessions online and lifeguards are taking their swim lesson skills to private homes with pools.

“We have about seven signed up so far,” Reese said.

And, young folks ages 10 to 15 can take their junior lifeguard training — the classroom portion anyway — online, so when the pool opens, they can quickly complete the course.

“When they turn 15, we’ve now got a large pool of potential lifeguards and even if they don’t become lifeguards, we need as many CPR-trained people in our community as possible,” Reese said.

Starting Monday, YMCA staff wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) including masks, face shields and gloves, will check in members who want to use the weight room, which can only be accessed through the north entrance.

They will be asked if they have had a persistent cough, are feeling well, have shortness of breath or have been around anyone with COVID-19. Their temperature will also be taken and anyone with a temperature of more than 100 degrees will not be admitted.

There is a one-way-in and one-way-out system in place and signs on the floor will direct users around equipment.

“Our staff will constantly be cleaning all equipment as soon as someone quits using it,” Reese said. “Our free weights won’t go back on the racks until they have been completely sanitized and have not been used for a specific amount of time.”

Thursday, sisters Angie Duncan and Sherry Sebree of Albany were smiling as they worked out on elliptical machines.

“I can’t wait to get back,” Duncan said. “I’ve been walking instead, but nothing beats the gym.”

Duncan said the gym workouts are the sisters’ “bonding time.”

“I’ve been working out at home, but it’s just not the same,” Sebree said.

Strength center users will be limited to 40 at a time for one hour.

Reese said that about 75 employees were laid off and another 50 or so stayed on and took on maintenance projects such as landscaping and painting the interior of the building.

Albany Helping Hands pitched in with landscaping and also power washed the warehouse building in preparation for painting.

“We also delivered food and medicine throughout the community, whether someone was a member or not,” Reese said.

He thinks most employees will return to work when the building fully opens.

“We’ve been very busy,” Reese said. “We worked nearly every weekend. We bought the former ABC House and are creating five pre-school classrooms there.”

Reese said the 20,000-square-foot warehouse is going to be turned into an athletic performance center for cross fit, boxing martial arts, laser tag and indoor sports such as soccer.

One new athletic field is nearing completion and plans are in the works for a second even larger sports complex on the north side of the property.

Reese said membership dropped during the outbreak by just 400, from 6,200 to 5,800.

“We called every member,” Reese said. “We really tried to communicate this whole time and we have worked as partners with such as the Boys & Girls Club, Albany Parks and Recreation and Greater Albany Public Schools. We are not in competition with each other, we want to help each other succeed and fill needs.”

Reese said he is ready to get back to whatever the “new normal” is for the YMCA.

“I miss reading Bible verses to our pre-school kids,” he said. “There is a sense of love, enjoyment when you enter this building. You leave the world in the parking lot and come into a place where people are free to smile and laugh. Things are better here.”

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