The Saratoga Regional YMCA ‘s (SRYMCA’s) Saratoga Springs branch really does have a lot to offer. It boasts a (huge) fitness center, a pool, a sauna, a steam room, a track, a gymnasium, studio spaces, KidzCare services and a litany of class offerings for members of all ages and abilities. And it’s about to have way more.
On Tuesday, the SRYMCA—which operates five branches in Saratoga County—announced it had obtained City approval for a 17,000-square-foot addition to its Saratoga Springs branch that will serve as the future home of the Saratoga Senior Center. The expansion, made possible by an anonymous $2 million donation, will allow both nonprofit organizations to enhance programming geared toward older adults. Construction is expected to begin in spring 2022.
“We’re out of space,” says Saratoga Senior Center Executive Director Lois Celeste of her organization’s current location on Williams Street. “When I started here 11 years ago we averaged about 30 people a day coming into the center. We served about 300 people in 2010. This past year we served 2,600 people and pre-COVID we were averaging about 150 people per day.” The Senior Center has been on the lookout for a new location for the past five years or so, and when a community member connected the organization with SRYMCA there was an instant connection. “The synergy between the Y and us is amazing,” Celeste says. “They serve all community members, and we serve seniors. They have a swimming pool and walking track and things we don’t have. And we have things they don’t have—we do the educational component and social activities and we have arts, we have trips.” The Y does, however, take extra-good care of its senior members. When gyms were forced to close last year because of the pandemic, SRYMCA staff made personal phone calls to seniors, started an email just for seniors, and provided virtual classes to more than 10,000 area seniors.
So what exactly will this new facility look like? For starters, it’ll be located right off the back of the Y’s building but will have its own entrance as well, which will face West Avenue and Pitney Meadow Farms. As for what will go inside the building—that’s something a feasibility study is in the process of figuring out. Using a grant it received before COVID, the Senior Center is conducting interviews with and surveys of community members to determine what exactly seniors, their children and the businesses that serve seniors want. Celeste’s vision, though, is for an all-inclusive, one-stop, senior-centric mecca. “A lot of community partners come to us and basically want to advertise or get their information to our seniors,” she says. “So what if businesses could rent out space at the center and seniors could get their physical therapy there, or maybe we have a salon so they could come in to get their nails done every Monday when they’re here for their class?” Celeste also has big plans for an on-site cafe that will be open to both the center’s seniors and YMCA members.
And while that all sounds like fun and games, there’s a practical, health-related impetus behind the project, too. Social isolation is detrimental to physical and mental health, especially among seniors. Seniors who socialize regularly have been shown to have improved memory and longevity, handle stress better, and have better mental health than those who do not. Celeste looks at the critical need for senior centers this way: “You turn 18 and you go off to college the same as everybody else—needing to meet new people and find friends who have things in common with you. Well, imagine being 70 or 80 and you lose your lifelong partner, or your children relocate you here, or you’ve lost friends and you’ve got to get out and meet new friends. It’s not quite as easy as when you’re 20.” She continues: “When you go to college campuses there’s a campus center, a gathering place. That’s what I want to create for this older population.”
While the $2 million donation will cover much of the construction costs of the new facility, the Senior Center will be launching a capital campaign to cover the rest. Those interested in donating should reach out to Celeste at (518) 584-1621. To participate in the community survey about the new Senior Center facility click here.
But the Senior Center isn’t the only big thing coming to the Saratoga Y in the coming months. After the addition is complete, SRYMCA will embark on a construction project of its own—one that will expand its current operating space by a whopping 25,000 square feet. “The pandemic has made people less comfortable being together in small spaces, and the Y needs to support the health of its members,” says SRYMCA Chief Financial Officer John Pecora. “More space will allow us to expand our fitness offerings without compromising public health.” The addition will give the Y room to expand on its childcare area, gymnasium and yoga and spin studios, and spread out equipment in the functional areas more effectively.
So, a year or two down the line, after all is said and done, what can the Saratoga community expect from the new-and-improved SRYMCA/Senior Center compound? “The end goal is to serve more people, and to support wellness within our community,” Pecora says. “Collaborating will open up intergenerational activities between Y youth members and Senior Center members. We envision a joint operation that makes it clear to seniors that this is a one-stop shop to combat social isolation, improve mental and physical wellness, and provide opportunities for people to have fun and enjoy life.”
The Y will also be launching a capital campaign for this project. To donate, contact Scott Clark at (518) 583-9622 x106.