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YMCA project will be delayed, cost more

The Baltimore Sun

For 13 years, Tommy Olds exercised in "a little dingy area" of a basement fitness room at the Ellicott City YMCA.

"Water would leak in," the 79-year-old legal investigator said about the old exercise room at the facility on Montgomery Road.

Like many members, Olds was enthusiastic about the $11.2 million project launched in April 2007 to expand and improve the facility. But though much of the work has been completed and new areas are in use - such as the climbing wall and the fitness room - members learned recently that the long-anticipated project is being hampered by delays and cost overruns.

The multiphase project was to have been completed last month, but a series of problems has pushed the projected completion date to early next year, officials said. Inflation and the delays also will make the project more expensive, though officials say they aren't yet sure by how much. John K. Hoey, president and CEO of the Y of Central Maryland, recently sent members a "construction update" newsletter that said the organization has been dealing with a "perfect storm of unexpected delays" finally resulting in the replacement of the general contractor in July.

"While we have full confidence that the end product will be well worth the wait, we recognize that this project has taken much longer than any of us had anticipated," according to Hoey's letter.

The biggest problem was that the former contractor was taking too long to do the job, said Sara Milstein, chief marketing officer for the YMCA of Central Maryland. Cost overruns will not cause fee increases, she said, primarily because fees apply across the system and aren't different by location.

When complete, the facility will have two swimming pools, two gyms, a health and wellness center, teen and senior centers, child care center, and more.

At 60,000 square feet, the complex will be twice the size of the original, which was built in 1966. It will also have a new name - the Dancel Family Center - named for a family foundation that donated $750,000 toward the project. The Y also raised $2 million by selling land to the county for Veterans Elementary School next door, and the state kicked in a $1.5 million bond.

Center director Dawn Chrystal-Wolfe said members are already using portions of the new wing that are complete.

"One multipurpose room and the cycle room were turned over last week," she said.

Work is under way on the original portion of the facility. The original swimming pool and locker rooms, which remained in use as the new building grew next door, will be upgraded too.

The front parking lot - still a staging area for construction vehicles - will be the last area completed.

Some members said the remodeled portions represent such a significant improvement that they are content to endure delays in the construction timeline. For Olds, a former law enforcement professional, the contrast between the old exercise area and the new second-floor room is dazzling.

"The day I walked in there it was almost like I died and went to heaven," he said of the bright and airy addition.

Olds joined the gym 13 years ago after driving by on his way home from a medical appointment for high blood pressure, symptoms of diabetes, and high cholesterol. He stopped in to inquire about exercise options and decided to join.

Now he's free of all his old health problems, he said.

"I got addicted," he said. "I just relax and have fun."

Olds said he's not concerned about the construction delays.

"They're going out of their way to make things convenient," he said about the Y officials.

Resting between exercise sessions Tuesday morning, Jean Pfefferkorn also raved about the new exercise room, which she said is about four times bigger than the old one.

"The old one had much, much, much less equipment," she said.

Now there are about 90 exercise machines, each with its own TV screen, plus a large weight area outfitted with mirrors.

Even with restricted parking and a temporary, plywood-enclosed construction rear entrance, the "new" Y is worth the wait, she said.

Milstein said that despite the travails, membership has grown by 23 percent since last year.

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