By Bill Kirk
---- — The Merrimack Valley YMCA is close to final approval for its $21 million expansion of its Andover/North Andover facility.
The nonprofit health club received the go-ahead from the Planning Board last week for its plans to more than double its 165 Haverhill St. facility from about 50,000 square feet to more than 100,000 square feet.
The Conservation Commission was expected to vote on the plan Tuesday night, but that meeting was postponed until tonight, Jan. 23, because of this week’s snowstorm.
If the Conservation Commission OKs the project, the expansion project is on target for a March 28 ground-breaking.
“This is a very exciting time for our organization,” Steve Ives, president and CEO of the Merrimack Valley YMCA said. “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. The project is expected to wrap up in early 2015. Existing programs will remain open during construction, Ives said.
Conservation Commission agent Bob Douglas said the panel had asked for more information about drainage to “make sure the project meets water quality standards.”
Douglas said the expansion, along with new roads and parking lots, had 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 devise 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. Andover Director of Planning Paul Materazzo said there had been some issues for the Planning Board with the new facility hooking up to the town sewer line on Haverhill Street, but those have all been resolved.
The permit was 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 last week, after the Planning Board’s approval.
“The town of Andover has been very fair and helpful in working with us,” Gary Morelli, the Y’s chief operating officer, said. “We appreciate their due diligence as this is a very significant project for both the Merrimack Valley YMCA and the community.”
The new Haverhill Street YMCA is expected to feature a number of enhancements, 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 $21 million cost of the expansion is being paid for through fundraising efforts 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 the 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, 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 new construction, 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 fundraising efforts, which currently stand at $5.7 million. The Y has a goal of $7 million to complement its $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 an individual 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 YMCA will also be reaching out to a broad base for giving at “any level.”