By Dustin Luca
---- — For more than four decades, the Andover/North Andover YMCA has served as an integral part of the community — but since its opening, by and large, the facility has remained the same.
That’s about to change.
Officials are now pitching a $21 million expansion of the YMCA complex on Haverhill Street to town officials. 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 Stephen Ives, CEO of the Merrimack Valley YMCA.
“The Y has been an integral part of the community for more than 40 years,” Ives said. “As we expand this and make it even more significant, it will have an even more profound impact over the next 40 years.”
The project is before the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals, and an interdepartmental review putting the proposal under a multidimensional lens was held last week.
While the Planning Board continued its review of the plans to Nov. 12, Ives said the YMCA is still aiming to break ground on the first of two phases of the project as early as next month.
“We still hope to break ground this November or December,” he said. “A lot depends on permitting and planning, and the Zoning Board of Appeals. But assuming all that continues to go well and smoothly, we’ll break ground on the first portion.”
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 21/2-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, also referred to by Ives as a senior center.
“That was an unmet need in the community we’re filling,” he said.
The design is similar to other YMCAs across the country, Ives said.
“That’s, really, standard and customary in Y design right now,” Ives said. “We’ve been using some consultants we’re working with on what the typical Y structure looks like.”
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 education,” to the facility, he said.
The entire expansion is expected to wrap up in early 2015. Existing programs will remain open during construction, Ives said.
“We’ll be moving functions around in the building to different places,” he said. “We don’t have the final details yet on all of the phasing, but we have a pretty good perspective on how it will all happen.”
The project went before the Planning Board last Tuesday, Oct. 8. At the meeting, the public was given a small window to comment or air their concerns about the proposal.
Katherine Lambert, a Haverhill Street resident, said her biggest concern was traffic. She said she wants to make sure a traffic study taking into account the expansion is completed.
“The cars come out at the exit of the YMCA, and there’s already a backup of traffic that causes some concern with potential accidents,” Lambert said.
Meanwhile, an attorney representing a neighboring condominium community also voiced some concerns over storm water drainage and flooding that could occur with the addition of 141 proposed parking spaces.
Ives said he was encouraged by the YMCA’s first meeting with the Planning Board.
“As with any project, there’s questions, there’s issues, and we’re happy that neighbors and people in the community are both supportive, but also sharing with us what their wishes and concerns are,” he said.
“Our plan is to address all those and make sure this is an accepted and exciting project for everybody in the community.”
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