CROWN POINT — The Southlake Family YMCA on Thursday broke ground on its new $35 million, 9-acre expansion project.

The dirt-moving ceremony took place a year to the day of Region billionaire Dean White's death, whose family's gift of $21 million led the way to the new facility — a new facility that now will be known as the Dean and Barbara White Southlake YMCA.

"He is smiling from heaven," said Craig White, one of Dean and Barbara White's children.

White talked about his parents' love for Crown Point and Northwest Indiana and their idea of bringing a world-class destination YMCA to the community.

"They truly wanted to make a gift that would have the largest impact on the quality of life for everybody in the community," he said.

The existing Y opened in October 1997 at 26,987 square feet. In 2003, there was an expansion that brought that total to 39,687 square feet. The addition will include a 76,000-square-foot building expansion to the east side of the existing facility. 

Laurie A. Halaska, CEO of the Crossroads YMCA, which operates the branches in Griffith, Hammond and Whiting in addition to the Southlake Y, said the brick and mortar will be outstanding, but the Y is more than that.

"This facility will raise the health standards in Crown Point and surrounding communities," she said. "The YMCA will be able to bring national programs here to help all ages become healthier and more knowledgeable and just better people overall. And this is all to the gratitude of the White family."

In addition to the facility's new name honoring the family, Tom Hoffman, YMCA board chairman, said the White family also acquired about 30 acres directly west of the existing facility on Court Street and will transfer it to the Y for future YMCA youth programs.

"Today marks a milestone like no others in our community," Hoffman said.

Crown Point's City Council recently agreed to waive building and permit fees for the Y expansion that would have amounted to about $280,000. Mayor David Uran said it represented good faith not only by the community but also represents people who want to support the project but can't financially. He said the new Y is another testament to the community's spirit.

"It's an unbelievable next edition to the city of Crown Point," he said. 

The expansion to the south Lake County facility at the corner of Court Street and Burrell Drive is expected to be completed by December 2018.

Improvements include a new parking lot east and south of the current building that adds 340 parking spaces to the existing 222.

A new entry will be located on the south side of the building addition facing Burrell as well as a new additional driveway to service the new Y addition, which will triple the facility's size and be expected to serve 25,000 people a year.

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Rob covers urban affairs and other matters in Crown Point, St. John, Winfield and beyond. Previously he covered Valparaiso, Hammond, Gary and East Chicago. He's also written for various magazines and pens a culture blog for The Times.