SCHERERVILLE — Ever since the Franciscan Health Fitness Center had to close its Kids Zone at the start of the pandemic, longtime employee Tania Schick said the building has been "like a ghost town." With Crossroads YMCA set to open a new location in the space Dec. 20, kids and families may soon return.
"The Y saved this place," said Schick who has worked at the fitness center for 30 years. "Not everybody has mom, dad, grandma, grandpa ... so many people do not have that village at home to raise them. The Y, will be that place."
After a regional phone survey conducted for Lake County revealed a gap in services offered in Schererville, Crossroads YMCA approached Franciscan Health about opening a Y in the current fitness center located at at 221 U.S. 41, suite A. The survey showed a need for more youth-focused programs, something the Y took to heart.
The Franciscan fitness center will close Saturday. When the renovation is completed on Dec. 20, the space will be brand new. The 14 days of "round-the-clock renovation" will consist of more than just a new paint job, though the center will undergo a "Y-inization" with updated colors and branding, Crossroads YMCA CEO Jay Buckmaster said.
Construction crews will be removing all the flooring, replacing it with a softer rubber that is easier on the joints, much of the equipment will be replaced, a gymnastics, cheer and dance center will be added, the kid zone will be expanded and an old maintenance area will be transformed into a family locker room.
The goal of the renovation is to improve the existing facility while making the space more accessible and family friendly with affordable youth activities.
"The pandemic really shone a light on what our kids are missing," Buckmaster said. "We really need to make sure kids have a place where they feel like they belong."
Youth programming can help build kids' confidence, teach valuable social skills and increase overall physical and mental health, Crossroads Marketing Director Jill Schaffenberger said.
The Y is working to expand youth programming throughout Lake County. In the first half of 2022, the Y hopes to break ground on a $45 million destination YMCA at the former Woodmar Mall site next to the Hammond Sportsplex. Crossroads also renovated the existing Hammond Y, located on Southeastern Avenue, in 2019 expanding it from 40,000 square-feet to 120,000 square-feet. In 2019, what Schaffenberger called a "busy year" for the Y, also included a nine-acre expansion of the Dean & Barbara White Southlake YMCA in Crown Point.
Every week the Crown Point Y's cheer, gymnastics and ninja programs host about 1,200 kids, with another 800 stuck on the waitlist Buckmaster said. If the Schererville Y sees the similar levels of demand, the Y may look to build a 100,000 square-foot structure bordering the nearby train tracks. Buckmaster said if the project were to go through, the two buildings would be connected, forming a massive 275,000 square-foot YMCA, the largest one in the country.
"We believe that there is an appetite for kids and families to be able to have a place to stay healthy and active," Buckmaster said. "There is a lack of affordable and accessible opportunities for kids."
Landmark in the community
Nick Prabhu has been a member of the Schererville fitness center for 29 years. Originally called the Omni-41, the center opened in the 1970s primarily as a men's health club Schick said.
Over the years Prabhu's visits, first three times a week and then daily, became more than just a combination of cardio and lifting.
"Part of the reason I come here, is I meet up with a bunch of people and we talk about the Bears and the Cubs," Prabhu said. "I like to run into people I know."
The center has been a central part of the Schererville community for decades, housing tennis courts, a skating rink and a roller rink through the years. Buckmaster hopes the renovation will allow the center to serve even more of the community.
"We want to create a safe place where families can fee supported," Buckmaster said.