Rendering of the Watertown Family YMCA’s proposed community center on Arsenal Street. Provided photo

WATERTOWN — New York Air Brake LLC has awarded a grant totaling $250,000 to support the Watertown Family YMCA’s community and aquatics center project in a former call center on Arsenal Street.

The grant, which will be awarded in five $50,000 increments over a five-year span, will assist the center as part of a $20 million project to renovate and relocate the Y’s wellness and aquatic center in a downtown building at 146 Arsenal St.

The building will be converted into a facility with a six-lane lap pool, a separate full-size recreational pool, two full-size tennis courts with an elevated running track and several other amenities.

An engineering firm is still working on the final design for the YMCA’s community center project. Construction is slated to start early next year.

“The impact that this organization has had over many generations on the local economy, area families, and the people of New York Air Brake is immeasurable” said Ulisses Camilo, NYAB president and chief executive officer. “Now the YMCA is continuing its investment in our community by revitalizing and increasing its services, and we are honored and excited to be part of this momentous effort.”

Mr. Camilo noted that the company has been part of the Watertown community since 1890, while the local YMCA began in 1855.

The new Downtown YMCA Community and Aquatic Center will provide a significant increase in both capacity and programming while maintaining the center’s historic downtown location, he said.

The first $50,000 installment for the project was awarded in 2020, kicking off a project that has earned wide support throughout the community.

Keith Perry, manager of field service for NYAB, project manager for the company’s Community Cares effort, and a longtime member of the Watertown Family YMCA, cited the significance of the expansion, which will result in a larger indoor facility for the community to enjoy year-round.

“There’s really no other agency or entity that provides as broad a scope of programming in support of families in our community,” Mr. Perry said.

He noted that NYAB was enthusiastic about supporting the project from its earliest stages, when the company became one of the first major contributors to the campaign.

“The YMCA approached NYAB as one of the premier manufacturing companies in the area to get a sense of how the community and the company would respond,” Mr. Perry said, explaining that the agency’s initial request for grant funding occurred even before the YMCA kicked off its campaign efforts. “When the proposal was presented, New York Air Brake leadership unanimously approved the $250,000 grant, recognizing that the YMCA is one of the most pivotal support entities in Jefferson County.”

Denise Young, CEO of the Watertown Family YMCA, said the need for this capital improvement has been evident for some time, considering the current downtown facility’s aging infrastructure.

That Washington Street facility includes a 104-year-old lap pool located on the second floor. The facility serves around 30,000 community members in the greater Watertown area and offers daily passes allowing non-members to use its facilities, something that is not universal to all YMCAs. The center also houses the only public indoor swimming pool available in the region.

“We have many unmet needs, but our board was committed to staying in the downtown footprint in Watertown to serve the community,” Ms. Young said. “This project has seen broad-based community support as one that will impact health and quality of life, as well as the local economy.”

The new facility is also expected to be an amenity that helps keep the downtown area vibrant.

In the coming months, the YMCA plans to open its fundraising campaign to additional groups, officially launching its community funding effort in early 2022, followed by additional phases of outreach later in the year.

In 2020, the YMCA was awarded a $9.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense through the Defense Community Infrastructure Pilot Program. Part of the Department of Defense grant includes a community matching component that doubles NYAB’s $250,000 contribution.

Projected to be complete in 2023, the renovation will result in an 89,000-square-foot community and aquatic center located just one-eighth of a mile away from the current facility, where it will continue to serve as a focal point in downtown Watertown.

The new facility is expected to serve about 15,000 visitors monthly. It will offer a full range of programs and activities, including youth development and sports, swimming lessons, a wellness center, and activities for adults, families, senior citizens and children.

Ms. Young pointed out that having the new pool will allow the facility to host practices for its 170-member swim team and to host swim meets, which is not possible at the existing pool.

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