West Suburban YMCA lands $12M for second location

April 15, 2022 : Boston Business Journal, by Grant Welker

Newton’s West Suburban YMCA has a history that dates 145 years, but it’s rarely embarked on such a pivotal moment as it has today.

Its current building, next to the Massachusetts Turnpike, opened in 1914. But it's become too cramped, and the organization has found a new location for a second facility for the first time. By September, a former Boston Sports Club at 135 Wells Ave. is due to open with what will eventually be 61,000 square feet of space.

"We knew that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” president and CEO Jack Fucci said in an interview Thursday, as MassDevelopment announced a nearly $12 million tax-exempt bond it will issue to help the Y buy and renovate the new space.

The West Suburban Y has also landed a $3 million gift from an anonymous donor — the largest in its history — and will embark on a $6 million fundraising campaign to help it repay much of the rest of the cost of the new site.

The Y's leaders have long known it needs more space, Fucci said, and that the southern end of the city wasn't being well-served. So when the former Boston Sports Club site became available, the nonprofit, which serves Belmont, Newton, Watertown, Wellesley and Weston, jumped at the opportunity.

"We took a tour, and it was as if we were walking into a premade YMCA,” Fucci said.

From a check-in area to a walking track to a pool and fitness space, the club had virtually everything a YMCA would need. Only minor renovations would be needed, including making indoor tennis courts into basketball courts.

The Y is expecting to add 100 new employees at the Wells Ave. location, as well as 2,000 to 2,500 new members within a two years from opening.
The Newton club had 8,000 members from 4,500 households before the pandemic hit, but lost about 2,000 households in early 2020, Fucci said. However, when the Y had to close early in the pandemic because it wasn’t considered an essential business, about 1,000 members converted their memberships to donations to help out. In the end, the nonprofit didn’t lay off any workers.

In a short time, Fucci said, the Y was able to help provide tens of thousands of meals with the Newton Food Pantry and open up for remote school help for students otherwise learning from home.

"It allowed us to show that the Y is about the people and not the place,” Fucci said.

Today, the West Suburban Y is back up to 86% of its pre-pandemic membership levels.

The 276 Church St. location, which also includes 28 single-occupancy housing units for formerly homeless men, will remain open. Only one major renovation has been made to the space since its opening, Fucci said: a new gymnasium and pool about two decades ago.

"In the last few decades,” he said, “we've been bursting at the seams at this location."