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New Pensacola YMCA Opening Soon

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Bob Barrett
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WUWF News

The finishing touches are being put on the new YMCA facility in downtown Pensacola, getting the building ready to open its doors to members on November 7.

Melissa Shelton, a welcome center representative at the new YMCA says everything will be open "except the pool. The pool is going to be an additional two weeks." Shelton and a group of other escorts were giving tours and answering questions about the facility to the press and invited guests Wednesday morning.

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The waterslide and pools are features that are still under construction at the new Pensacola YMCA

The most striking feature on the first floor is the pool area. There are two pools, one is 25 yards long and is wide enough for four lap lanes. The other is 25 by 26 foot with a very unique feature: a water slide from the second floor. Melanie Erikson is the Y’s Aquatic Director. She says the pools were designed to be handicap accessible. "Our pool is very unique in that even the slide is handicap accessible because someone who has ambulatory issues can take the elevator to the second floor and come out right on that deck and still be able to use the slide." The pools offer zero depth entry ramps to people in wheelchairs or walkers can access the water. there will also be mechanical lifts to lower people into the water making them compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Another feature of the first floor is a community kitchen that will be run by Baptist Health Care. Megan McCarthy is Director of Community Health for Baptist. "We all know that when we are in our homes, the kitchen is where we tend to gather and have conversations and really relax. And health is really made in the kitchen. So we are going to use this beautiful teaching kitchen, it looks like one that you would see one the Food Network, [and] we're going to make it a very practical based place for everyone in the community to come and not only learn some of those skills that we may not have gotten. It's about how you shop for healthy food and prepare it and make it easier and cheaper than fast food." 

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The Gulf Power Demo Kitchen and Meeting Room at the new Pensacola YMCA

McCarthy says that beginning in January they will be having Lunch and Learn classes every Wednesday in the kitchen with guest presenters and chefs. The building is called The Bear – Levin – Studer Family YMCA, named for the local families who contributed most to the building effort, but other families and donor have contributed to the effort. The kitchen is named the Gulf Power Demo Kitchen and Meeting Room, and on the second floor is the Bubba Watson Foundation Basketball Courts. The aquatic center, which in addition to the pools will have a co-ed steam room and sauna is named for the Switzer family. Pensacola businessman Bobby Switzer says the pool is the center of most any YMCA. "The Y is pretty much basketball, aerobics and weights, and swimming. And we just felt that the aquatic center was a great fit for us. Our family was involved in the expansion and the restoration of the last Y back in the 90s. We just feel that every community needs a solid Y."

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On the second floor of the new YMCA is a massive exercise center filled with weight and aerobics machines in a room with large floor to ceiling windows overlooking downtown Pensacola. There is also a physical therapy center run by the Andrews Institute. Julie Kellen is a physical therapist and the Corporate Director of Rehab for Baptist Health care and the Andrews Institute. "Having this location downtown allows us to have easy access for all of our patients. We see a lot of patients from the downtown area, they are having to travel during their work day to some of our other locations, and by bringing this site right into the heart of downtown Pensacola we can provide that care for them, they can come get their rehab, get their [physical therapy] or [occupational therapy], they can get that here and them get back to work or get back to their lives."

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View from the Bubba Watson Foundation Basketball Courts at the new Pensacola YMCA

Kellen says that this location will replace the outpatient therapy center at the Baptist Towers on E Street. "It is definitely an undated facility from the Towers. The same clinical staff that's at the Towers will be coming down here to provide the same servies."

And you don’t have to be a YMCA member to use the new rehab facility. But the staff at the Y expects to get a surge of new members because of their new digs. Right now there are over 2,800 membership units. A unit can be an individual member or a family or company, so there are actually over 5,100 members. "We're expecting on Monday for that to go up" said Doug Johnson, the Membership Director. He says there are programs to help low income families afford a membership. "We do have an assistance program where they just fill out an application and we ask for some basic information. We also request a tax statement from the previous year and then based upon that, they are on a sliding scale to where they can get up to 65 percent off of their membership fee."  Johnson says that if after that a family still has trouble with the cost of a membership they will sit down individually and do their best to make it affordable.  

The Bear – Levin – Studer Family YMCA is on the corner of Tarragona and Intendencia Streets in downtown Pensacola. 

Bob Barrett has been a radio broadcaster since the mid 1970s and has worked at stations from northern New York to south Florida and, oddly, has been able to make a living that way. He began work in public radio in 2001. Over the years he has produced nationally syndicated programs such as The Environment Show and The Health Show for Northeast Public Radio's National Productions.