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YMCA renovation emphasizes healthy living

Renovations at the Brainerd Family YMCA focus on healthy living across generations, from snacks to workout spaces. 

Gone are the snack machines with candy bars and chips. Added are technology updates with wireless Internet and flat-screen TVs, along with additional in-demand workout equipment and more group fitness class spaces. 

With growing obesity issues for adults and children and the health concerns that go hand-in-hand, the changes are aimed at all age groups. Some of the changes, such as the new healthy snack bar, bring in revenue for the Y. Other changes are a way for the Y to appeal to members who face economic pressure when making decisions about monthly membership fees. 

“When the economy started to struggle three years ago, in most cases Y memberships were the first to go,” said Randy Klinger, executive director. Brainerd’s high unemployment was another factor, Klinger said. 

The Y currently has 3,811 members. With the recession, the Y saw a regular membership decline of 18 percent while low-income and reduced membership rates increased 16 percent. Through  it all the Y didn’t cut programs or staff, but looked at reducing expenses and ways to generate more revenue, such as the addition of a healthy snack bar. 

The Y fundraisers provide discounted memberships for individuals and families who qualify. Confidential applications are available for people who need financial assistance based on a sliding scale. Depending on income and family size, discounts may be 20, 50 or 75 percent off the regular rate. Klinger said helping those in financial hardship is a hallmark of the organization’s mission. Those who volunteer four hours a week are compensated with a free adult membership. 

“Rather than wait for the economy to strengthen, we elected to stay out on the front end and improve our services in an effort to show our members we are still a healthy, vibrant YMCA.” 

A multi-purpose lounge, where senior citizens and students gathered socially, no longer had the use to justify keeping it. The lounge was remodeled into a second group fitness area called Studio 2. 

“Given the emergence of group fitness, we elected to better utilize this square footage as a group fitness area,” Klinger said. Stationary bicycles were set up in front of the mirrored wall of Studio 2 for cycling classes. Studio 2 is also home to yoga and pilates and other group fitness courses.  

Klinger said they’ll be doing more group classes with an eye toward trailing baby boomers, those people in their 50s who don’t want to take classes targeted at older adults but who may find some of the high-end workout sessions too demanding. Senior citizen memberships are also growing, Klinger said.

“They want to stay active,” he said. “This becomes a social culture for them.”

Research for cardiovascular fitness standards went into changes for the Wellness Center, with its treadmills, elliptical machines and cross-trainers. Window tinting allowed the Y to remove window blinds on the room facing South Sixth Street. More machines were added. An altered layout and removal of three bulky TVs sets for replacement with 55-inch flat-screens all created a greater sense of space. 

Klinger said low-impact cross-training machines such as a seated elliptical provide workout options for people in a rehabilitation process or those whose joints or backs may not stand up to a traditional workout. Still coming to the Wellness Center is a Y-TV, with a display for YMCA programming and videos of group fitness classes.

The Y website was updated for easier navigation. Google-based calendars were added for interactive scheduling to members’ own calendars. The lower level was renovated for a Kids Club with after-school activities, recreation room and Y University, which has a quiet area for homework and weekly help from a licensed teacher.  

The seating area by the front desk was transformed to the healthy snack bar with cafeteria-like tables and a cooler for water and Gatorade, yogurt, fruit and low-fat string cheese and snacks of animal crackers and granola bars. 

Other changes were more cosmetic or more efficient to maintain such as replacing locker room carpet with polished concrete. A history wall display, with the YMCA’s original sign and Dispatch newspaper clipping from 1962 — when the Y was built — is going up across from the Wellness Center. 

Klinger said it’s important for members to understand the community’s original investment in the YMCA. “Without that we wouldn’t be standing here today.”

RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at or 855-5852.