YMCA, rec center combo offers many possibilities

Published 3:50 pm Sunday, March 29, 2015

On a recent run at the Austin YMCA, my mind started wandering to the future of Austin’s largest fitness hub.

Earlier this month, Vision 2020’s Community Recreation Center Committee held public meetings on the proposal to build a community recreation center, which would likely include a new Austin YMCA.

Since then, most of my recent workouts at the YMCA have drifted into daydreams about the possibilities of a new rec center/YMCA combination.

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Here are a few of my ideas.

This is a column to share my ideas and hopefully spark discussion. For the purposes of this column, I’m just throwing out ideas and intentionally not worrying about potential costs. This is a kind of “if I won the lottery” type discussion. This column features my opinions only, not those of anyone on the rec center committee.

 Wider, longer running track

Like many Y members, I spend at least half of my time at the facility on the running/walking track. While it’s a great asset, the YMCA’s track gets crowded quickly.

With may walkers chatting side-by-side, it makes for an awkward run when you have to interrupt and pass people or squeeze to one side. And some people, typically teens, walk slowly and barely give joggers enough room to pass. Early this year, the YMCA saw a rush of members, which only made for more people and more awkward passes on the track.

In a new building, a wider track would seem to be common sense, especially if a new rec center/YMCA combo attracts even more people. Any track would have to accommodate the additional amount of walkers and joggers in a comfortable manner.

More passing space is almost a must. A longer track would be nice (10 1/2 laps currently make a mile); however, what’s the difference when you’re running circles on a track?

One idea, which seems a bit unlikely dream, would be to have a few large windows around the track. A few windows would be nice to be able to see daylight now and then during a winter jog indoors. East-facing windows on the current tracks would overlook Mill Pond.

Vision 2020 representatives have said the dome may be open to joggers and walkers, but that’s far from an ideal alternative to a track at the center. For starters, I’d rather not run around a field where soccer or softball is underway. I’ve gotten a few soccer balls and basketballs launched at me on the Y track, and I’d rather not have that as a constant concern at the dome.

Plus, many people bounce back and forth between the track and workout rooms at the Y.

 Ample athletics space

This seems like an obvious option, but the big question is how much is enough or too much.

As a Y member for several years, you can see the Y gyms and other spaces get crowded pretty quickly.

Basketball courts, racquetball courts, and other such space is important. And, the Austin gymnastics program is one of the most successful Austin sports programs in the last few years.

While more space would be nice at a new center, I’m a big fan of multi-use space, which I think should be a discussion point as the rec center plans move forward. A good example of that is the Y’s tennis court, which doubles as space for TRX classes. Neither tennis or TRX use the courts 24/7, so it makes sense to share — there’s lots of downtime for both. Some parts of the gymnastics area are used for kids programming too.

Granted, this arrangement isn’t always idea, but it makes sense to plan ahead for what can be shared.

 The cardio loft or something like it

A large workout/fitness room is a given for any gym, but I’m a supporter of including smaller rooms too.

When I started going to the Austin YMCA more than four years ago, I wasn’t in the best shape and was several pounds heavier than I am now.

While I have nothing against the Y’s main fitness room, I had no desire to workout with many eyes on me (many of them far more fit than I was).

The cardio loft, which has about 11 machines single-file overlooking the main gym and racketball courts, offered the perfect alternative to the self-conscious. I still workout in the loft because it’s quiet and the machines have personal TVs — a nice bonus.

I see many of the same faces in the loft, so it’d make sense to have something similar at a new facility.

 Larger pool or more pools

One item likely to generate serious discussion will be the pool.

Most YMCAs in towns Austin’s size have basic lap pools, but the rec center component brings questions of expanding that with multiple pools and maybe a few slide and other indoor fun.

While some may question if the public needs and wants an indoor water park, it’s fun to think about. If the rec center plan move forward, I’d want to split the difference: offer more than just a lap pool but don’t go as far as an indoor water park. This could include an indoor slide and maybe a few obstacles and kiddie pools, but it wouldn’t be as extensive as something at the Wisconsin Dells.

 Automatic turn-off showers

Since I was a kid going to the Albert Lea YMCA, my No. 1 pet peeve at the Y has been the youngsters who find it funny or cool to leave the showers running. Just a few weeks ago I walked up to the upstairs men’s locker room, which shares showers and pool access with the teens and younger locker room, and heard several showers running with no one there. About six showers were going in the empty locker rooms, so I went and turned them off.

While kids should know better than to needlessly waste countless gallons of water, I’m not banking on that being the case.

Showers that automatically turn off are a no-brainer to save water and utilities costs for the center.

 Space for Nerf, laser tag battles

OK, this is a bit of a random pipedream idea that hadn’t crossed my mind until recently. I was jogging on the running track last Saturday when I saw several children holding a Nerf fight on the mat in the gymnastics area.

A laser tag or Nerf battlefield room would be lots of fun for the children, teens and — admit it — adults as well as part of a recreation center. Chances are, this could be done on a multi-use space where obstacles and hideaways could be rolled into storage when it’s not in use.

Games like this can offer a more fun way for kids — and maybe adult leagues — to workout.

 Indoor park/climbing wall

The current YMCA has a hint of an indoor playground in a converted racquetball court. A larger indoor playground isn’t as far-fetched of an idea as it might seem.

A key goal for the YMCA and a rec center is to get families youngsters and individuals active and involved. For almost half the year, people can’t do many things outside in Minnesota.

A few times, I’ve taken my nieces to an indoor park in the Twin Cities. It’s a warehouse/office building converted into an indoor park. It features a small a large inflatable bounce dome, some park equipment and slides, equipment to climb, oversized building blocks, a toddler park, etc. The once-cement floor is covered over with a softer, temporary floor.