By Bill Kirk
---- — ANDOVER — The regional YMCA is one step closer to reality with approval this week from the Planning Board.
On Tuesday night the board voted to approve the site plans for the $21 million, 100,000-square-foot complex at 165 Haverhill St., on the North Andover border.
“This is a very exciting time for our organization,” said Steve Ives, president and CEO of the Merrimack Valley YMCA. “We are proud to be moving forward, for all the communities we serve, Andover, North Andover, Lawrence, Methuen and Southern New Hampshire.”
The Andover/North Andover Y, along with facilities in Methuen and Lawrence, draws people from the entire region, he said.
There are currently 8,000 members who attend the Andover/North Andover facility, with more expected as the facility expands. Ground-breaking is scheduled for March 28. The entire expansion is expected to wrap up in early 2015. Existing programs will remain open during construction, Ives said.
The project still needs approval from the Conservation Commission, which is scheduled to vote on it next week.
Conservation agent Bob Douglas said the commission has asked for more information about drainage to “make sure the project meets water quality standards.”
He said the expansion, along with new roads and parking lots, has created a lot of impervious surfaces so that runoff from the site could potentially get into the Shawsheen River. He said new projects are not allowed to create more runoff than is currently occurring, so the YMCA has had to create filtration chambers and holding ponds that allow the water to more naturally filter into the ground rather than cause flash-flooding.
“They are putting parking in areas where it hasn’t gone before and have also proposed an access road for fire safety,” he said. The Conservation Commission is scheduled for a Tuesday, Jan. 21 meeting in the third floor conference room of Town Hall. The meeting starts at 7:45 p.m. but the public hearing on the YMCA plan is scheduled to start at 8:15 p.m.
The Planning Board voted unanimously at its Tuesday night meeting to approve the expansion project, which will grow the facility from its current 50,000 square feet to over 100,000 square feet.
Director of Planning Paul Materazzo said there had been some issues with the new facility hooking up to the town sewer line in Haverhill Street but that those issues have all been resolved. The permit was conditionally approved with 22 conditions.
“This marks a significant milestone in the approval process necessary to begin the transformation of the current facility,” the YMCA said in a statement issued Wednesday.
“The town of Andover has been very fair and helpful in working with us,” said Gary Morelli, chief operating officer of the Y. “We appreciate their due diligence as this is a very significant project for both the Merrimack Valley YMCA and the community.”
The new YMCA is expected to feature a number of enhancements at its Haverhill Street facility, including a new childcare development center, an expanded aquatics facility, active living center for older adults, expanded wellness center, an active learning center and a rehabilitation center operated by Lawrence General Hospital.
The cost of this expansion project will be $21 million and is being funded by the fundraising efforts of the Merrimack Valley YMCA and tax-exempt bond financing provided by Enterprise Bank.
The project aims to nearly double the size of the dual recreation and fitness destination and bring it in line with other YMCA facilities across the country, according to Ives.
The first phase of construction will add a roughly 3,000-square-foot childcare center to the left side of the building, in addition to site work in preparation for the second phase of the project, Ives said.
The second phase will include the construction of a 2-1/2-story “glass-enclosed structure” that will make up the bulk of the expansion project, Ives said. The addition will house a multipurpose room, exercise and weight-training facility and a 3,000-square-foot active living center for older adults.
The Andover/North Andover YMCA is also partnering with Lawrence General Hospital to open a 5,000-square-foot Community Health and Physical Therapy Center at the site, Ives said.
And Merrimack College will also be bringing an Active Learning Center, integrating “both physical activity and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education,” to the facility, he said.
Ives said the YMCA will continue its fund-raising efforts. Currently at $5.7 million, the Y has a goal of $7 million to complement the $14 million in financing.
Some of the funding is likely to come in the form of naming rights, he said.
“We have naming opportunities from $25,000 up to $3 million,” he said, noting that the whole facility could be named after someone or an organization for the higher amount.
“The opportunity is there for individuals and organizations to leave a legacy with this historic project,” he said, adding that the organization will also be reaching out to a broad base for giving at “any level.”
Ives said the approval from the Planning Board was celebrated by a small gathering of board members and building committee members at Salvatore’s in Andover.
In the planning stages for three years, the town of Andover has been supportive of the project from the start.
“It’s taken some time,” he said. “It’s a process, but the town staff has been great. They have been very supportive and are interested in helping us be successful.”