Officials broke ground on a new YMCA in Williamsport Thursday, but while shovels struck dirt, the theme was a need to continue to receive funds and expressions of high hopes for a facility scheduled to open next fall with staff and a board of directors ready to help make the region be better and stronger.
"People understand what a YMCA is," said David Fagerstrom, CEO of River Valley YMCA. "Yes it's a building, a facility, and a tool to make the community better and stronger," he said. "It's also an organization that helps people."
As he and others gathered for the ceremony beneath a tent set up near High Street, earth-moving heavy equipment rumbled behind, closer to Park Avenue, digging into the ground on the steamy afternoon.
A heavy equipment operator removes dirt on the YMCA site near the corner of Park and Walnut streets.
Fagerstrom observed a need for the community to recognize that donations and pledges continue to be necessary to achieve stated goals.
The ceremony also was marked by the presentation of a $500,000 from the First Community Foundation Partnership of Pennsylvania by Marshall Welch.
Ron Cimini, who along with his wife, Rosie, have donated $1 million toward the building said the last time such a gathering occurred for a YMCA was 91 years ago. The planning for the facility at Park Avenue and Walnut Street began five years ago.
"I can't believe it's taken five years to get here, but we're here," Cimini said citing two groups: Susquehanna Health, and the First Community Foundation Partnership of Pennsylvania as most critical to development.
The Foundation stepped up with an impact grant and special presentation of that grant, releasing 500 balloons previously, he said. Five years ago a set of goals was established and that was to build debt-free, Cimini said.
The health system continued working with the city to purchase properties and pay the taxes on them so there were no losses.
Cimini didn't neglect to thank all of the donors thus far who are preparing to attend a new building in a different part of the town. The YMCA replaces the older building on Elmira Street.
"I hope I can say that took place a little more than a year from now when we hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony," Cimini said.
The estimated cost of the YMCA is $10 million.
"We're not done raising money," Cimini said.
Several lawmakers offered their thoughts.
"I can't think of a project that's so much of a community effort as this YMCA," said state Sen. E. Eugene Yaw, R-Loyalsock Township. Yaw noted how gas impact fee money is being used to help with the sewer and water extensions.
The Williamsport Municipal Water and Sanitary Authority recently accepted the $180,000 gas impact fee payment from Lycoming County for that purpose.
"It's been a labor of love," said state Rep. Garth Everett, R-Muncy, who was instrumental in helping to get the East Lycoming YMCA in Muncy Township up and running in the earlier part of the last decade. The facility has grown into an important regional YMCA serving portions of the county and nearby counties, according to Everett.
Lycoming County Commissioner Jeff Wheeland observed how partnerships - because of limited tax and private dollars - are rare today. Wheeland predicted tens of thousands of users once the building is constructed.
"It's going to be a great asset in Lycoming County," he said.
Mayor Gabriel J. Campana said where the ceremony was held would become the parking lot entrance.
"The word I'd use is teamwork," Campana said. Several entities worked together to make it possible, the mayor added, and then Campana, who claimed he isn't a betting man, wagered one:
Having been told the YMCA on Elmira Street has 2,500 members, Campana predicted that number would double. "They can come back home to a beautiful, nice facility in a perfect spot," he said.
The importance of the network with Susquehanna Health was noted by Jan Fisher, Susquehanna Health chief operating officer.
Fisher said Campana's prediction was well on its way with some 2,000 employees on the campus, many of whom planning to use the facility.
She welcomed the neighbor next door and said Susquehanna Health relentlessly is pursuing a vision to improve the health status of the community at large.
That much was true, according to Dr. Vincent J. Matteo, CEO of the Williamsport/Lycoming Chamber of Commerce.
"How do you spell YMCA?" he asked. "You spell it C-O-M-M-U-N-I-T-Y," he said. "Rich, poor, young, old, the in-shape, the out-of-shape" benefit from this tremendous project, he added.
"It's a good day for the community and a good day for economic development in Lycoming County," Matteo said.