Proposals reimagine vacant YMCA center

Above is the derelict visage of the old YMCA, which will soon be transformed with recent proposals to revitalize this community center. Several architects revealed plans, but one rises above all of the others: the Eastman Campus concept. Courtesy of Simon via WRRVCrook

The vacant, cement YMCA on Montgomery Street in the City of Poughkeepsie has been abandoned for nearly 10 years, but now there is hope of new life for the former community center. The city has received four main proposals since early April, each with a vision for how this space could benefit the Poughkeepsie community. The proposals include Eastman Campus, a robust community center with an array of services, an aquatic center with indoor and outdoor facilities and two different proposals for contemporary art museums. Eastman Campus, the project with the most public support, is the only proposal that offers an accurate construction timeline for the facility.

Vassar College is part of the 35 Montgomery Coalition that is proposing Eastman Campus, but it has not yet pledged any funding for the project. A public information meeting will be held on Oct. 22 at Changepoint Church to solicit input from the community. Public officials will attend and voice opinions after hearing the plans in more depth. Dutchess County Legislator Barbara Jeter-Jackson, who is on the advisory committee that will review the proposals, commented, “Although I’m interested in the applications presented, I also have further questions.” Some are most likely related to funding, given that none of the plans have a concrete budget, and many of them cite no sources of funding at all. Dutchess County has pledged $3 million to whichever proposal is selected, but rebuilding the YMCA is a huge financial undertaking, and most proposals will likely cost far more.

However, President Bradley has written in the College’s statement of support for the project that Vassar is “not in a position to provide funding for the project,” adding that Vassar’s involvement in the creation of Eastman Campus seems to be limited, with the college focusing on their own upcoming construction projects. In a letter of support, President Bradley announced Vassar’s plans to build an Institute for the Liberal Arts and Inn, which will house 50 guest rooms, a restaurant and a place for holding discussions and meetings.

Adjunct Assistant Professor in Urban Design at Columbia and Principal Architect at MASS Design Group Chris Kroner wrote in their proposal that Eastman Campus “re-establishes the former YMCA site as a community and recreation resource that can be a safe, structured and horizon-expanding space for Poughkeepsie’s youth and families…more than just a building, our proposal and the coalition behind it represent a comprehensive, cross sector commitment to giving Poughkeepsie’s children the best possible start in life.” According to its proposal, Eastman Campus would include a 24-hour daycare center, a greenhouse and garden, a maternal wellness center, a fitness center and gymnasium, a black box theatre and much more. The campus would provide services to Poughkeepsie residents of all ages, with the proposal describing everything from continuing education programs offered to adults to college test prep classes for high school students to swimming lessons for young children.

The YMCA closed amidst the recession in 2009 due to mounting maintenance costs and decreased revenue. The facility had been open since 1863, serving hundreds of thousands of Poughkeepsie residents as an important community center, including amenities such as an Olympic swimming pool, community rooms and a gymnasium. The YMCA had over 2,000 members in 2009 when it stopped operating, leaving a gaping hole in Poughkeepsie for those who used it as a recreational resource. According to the Poughkeepsie Journal, in 2014 the Reverend Curtis Whitted purchased the building for $10, hoping to build a community center that would provide services to Poughkeepsie families.

Despite the Reverend’s attempts to build momentum for the project, the tax liens were never paid and the city eventually acquired ownership of the building on Feb. 25 under a recent anti-blight initiative. The building is currently a biohazard, containing asbestos, lead and mold on the inside. The building has also sustained physical damage since its closure, and it is unclear whether the walls would be salvageable during the construction of a new facility.

The coalition is made up of some of the major institutions—including the College—and community centers in the Hudson Valley, such as Nuvance health, which operates Vassar Brothers, and MASS Design Group, the architectural firm that designed Eastman Campus.

The MASS Design Group claims in their proposal that this ambitious construction project of the Eastman campus will be possible due to members of the 35 Montgomery Coalition: “Each involved party will not only help to carry a share of the costs and manage their operation, but by working together, the coalition will be able to unlock efficiencies, reduce redundancies, and create cost savings, while collectively accessing fundraising/grant opportunities that would not otherwise be possible.”

The proposal states that if selected, a full developmental budget for Eastman Campus will be created through “funding, grants, and philanthropic support.” Yet the source of these anticipated grants and donations are not named, and many members of the 35 Montgomery Coalition have not explicitly offered any money for the project. Representatives for 35 Montgomery Coalition will likely have to address the budget during the public information hearing on Tuesday, October 22.

In addition to Eastman Campus, an application for a 22,000 square foot aquatic center called “Swimming Past the Boundaries” was submitted by Christopher Bledsoe. However, the proposal is outdated, with the document proposing a grand opening in April 2019. Christopher Bledsoe could not be reached for comment.

The They Co., a creative consulting group founded by Andrew Gori and Ambre Kelly, is proposing the Poughkeepsie Museum of Contemporary Art for the site. The proposal cites the location’s proximity to DIA Beacon and Storm King as evidence of the site’s potential as an art destination. While writing that tourism would economically benefit Poughkeepsie, the proposal lacks any description of the construction of the museum and cites no sources of funding.

At this point, the Eastman Campus is the most viable proposal, and the prospect of such an inclusive and multi-use community center excites residents. Yet huge questions remain as to how the three-acre site will be rebuilt, and who will pay for it. As Mayor Rolison told the Poughkeepsie Journal, “This is really the first step in what will be a lengthy process Certainly, there is a lot of work to do.”

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