At the end of 2008, many pivotal forces are being put into place for the soon-to-be completed, remodeled and much expanded Blaisdell YMCA. Members and neighbors who have watched the construction process move rapidly over the course of the last six months can hardly believe the transformation.
Simultaneously, several key staff members have moved to different positions within the YMCA and so, in addition to a new building, we will be welcoming a new executive director, as well as new membership and fitness directors.
For the past 10 years, Mike Melstad has been the executive director of the combined Hiawatha/Blaisdell branch YMCA. Mike started his career with the YMCA as a detached worker providing services to at-risk youth in 1977. Mike was chosen in part for his leadership skills and ability to welcome people of all diverse backgrounds. Under his leadership, the Blaisdell YMCA launched and developed the largest site for the YMCA Beacon’s Program, at the Anne Sullivan Elementary School. Mike has supervised 16 staff members who work off site to support this program. Over 350 students every school day receive after-school homework assistance, food, exercise and leadership training opportunities from a team of 16 YMCA employees, as well as teachers, janitors and bus drivers paid to stay after school and take kids home at 5p.m.
Mike has always practiced a behind the scenes style of diplomacy in working with an ethnic melting pot and defusing many types of confrontations that can occur when cultures collide. Since 2004 he has served faithfully in the YMCA’s Diversity Initiative Council. His latest achievement is creating the vision for a totally revitalized South Minneapolis YMCA. With the help of his community board led by Neil St. Anthony and Joan Niemiec, the branch raised $500,000, kicking off what has grown to a $6 million dollar expansion and renovation project. Mike has presided over the design, demolition and reconstruction of the “new” Blaisdell YMCA. Mike credits much of the design ideas and implementation to a now deceased board member and Lyndale resident, Harry Jensen, who was a pivotal figure in so many of the Lyndale Neighborhood’s most ambitious projects.
With less than two months to project completion, an opportunity of a lifetime was presented to Mike that created the difficult decision to leave Blaisdell to accept the role as President and CEO of the YMCA of Red Wing, Minnesota. After an intense national search, Mike was selected for a job that he had originally applied for over 15 years ago in a community that will make excellent use of the many leadership and development skills that he has honed in his 31 year career in the YMCA of Metropolitan Minneapolis. His new job will allow him to commute to work on foot, as opposed to the 55 mile one way commute he has been doing for many years, with a new wife and a great community. So congratulations to Mike, best wishes and on to a new chapter for us all at Blaisdell!
Kerry Pioske, Community Program Director of the Ridgedale Branch YMCA, will serve as the Interim Executive Director of the South Minneapolis – Blaisdell Branch YMCA until a new executive has been hired. Kerry is responsible for day-to-day operations and will oversee the transformation of the Blaisdell Branch YMCA during the final stages of construction and opening of the new addition and renovation. She brings 22 years of YMCA experience in program development, aquatics, supervision and training, youth development and many other skill sets.
Major new changes to expect at the YMCA
Possibly the biggest changes one will experience will be the uplifting and friendly visuals in a building that is connected to outside light. There will be approximately 15,000 additional square feet of new or remodeled space dedicated to fitness, Kidstuff (child watch), studios, family locker rooms, community rooms and member services as compared to the existing building.
The old fitness center will be the new home for kids’ programming and youth computer-based fitness equipment. Coming on line will be dance revolution, gaming setups, turbo kick and group surfing stations, all geared to help in the battle against childhood obesity. Mike Melstad said he was skeptical, but when he visited a YMCA in St. Paul that had the equipment installed he couldn’t believe the activity.
The swimming pool has completed several upgrades, including regrouting and a replacement of the pool drains. The ramp into the pool has been improved, but most importantly, a wheel chair lift has been added, making it ADA compliant. During the pool reconstruction, almost all the pool’s plumbing was replaced, creating an unbelievable difference in the circulation of the water. Like having your arteries cleaned out, water now circulates three times faster, making the water almost move in waves when there are no people in the pool. One of the last features to be completed will be four family locker rooms on the first floor with showers that open to the pool, a huge improvement over the old two on the second floor with no pool access.
Green features abound in many aspects of the new YMCA. Most will not be visible to the public but have huge impact. Almost 100% of the materials of the building that were torn down were reused avoiding the landfill and 75% of the building’s construction materials contain recycled material (concrete, wood, etc). The new building has a green “white roof”, a special rubber membrane designed to reflect the sun’s light, to lessen urban hothouse effect. Along the southern edge of the parking lot, permeable pavers have been installed, on top of six feet of crushed gravel to capture water runoff that occurs from the existing slope of the parking lot. The building’s roof drains were also designed to send its runoff water to these pavers. Another important upgrade was the replacement of the main boiler, responsible for heating the building and the pool. It was replaced with two high efficiency boilers that will realize app. $38,000 per year in saved energy costs.
These are just some of the many changes that are occurring at your neighborhood YMCA on Blaisdell. Our hats are off to the YMCA of Metropolitan Minneapolis for believing that the inner city deserved a first class fitness center and an excellent hub for programming that benefits all the residents, including disadvantaged and lower income families. Over 50% of Blaisdell’s members enjoy some form of subsidized membership rates.