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Long Island City YMCA breaks ground on expansion

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A steady rain could not dampen spirits at the groundbreaking last week for a major expansion of the Long Island City YMCA, where a gymnasium and teen center will be erected to meet the center’s explosive growth since opening three years ago.

“It was so good and so popular we need to go back now and add on to it just to accommodate everyone that wants to use the facility,” Borough President Helen Marshall said at the March 20 ceremony, where she and about 50 others escaped the wet late-winter weather beneath a tent.

Since opening in 1999 on Queens Boulevard and 33rd Street, the Long Island City YMCA has enjoyed a steady burst of popularity with the community, drawing about 6,000 adult members into a facility that was designed to serve only 2,500.

Although original plans called for the inclusion of a gymnasium, money fell short and the 30,000-square-foot structure was built with an indoor pool encircled by a running track but no gym. The basketball courts were instead located outside adjacent to the parking lot, where last week’s groundbreaking was held.

“It’s a finishing off of what we had envisioned in the first place,” said Paul Mohabir, the branch’s executive director, in a phone interview a few days after the groundbreaking. “I feel excited, thrilled, challenged.”

The $4 million expansion has been financed by contributions from the city, state and federal governments as well as individuals and private sources. About 90 percent of that money has already been raised, Mohabir said.

A new gymnasium will sit on the top floor of the three-story addition, which is being built on the paved area behind the facility that has until now been used for outdoor basketball and parking. The second floor will house a teen and family center, and the bottom level will be a parking garage.

The project is expected to be completed within 10 months to a year.

The teen center in its current form is simply a partitioned section of a bare multipurpose room the students have to share with community organizations and other YMCA groups. Tables and chairs can be set up for meetings. such as gatherings of students in the Youth in Government program who just returned from a mock legislative session in Albany. Or they can be removed for dances like the Teen Night held every Friday from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m.

“I think it will be a great thing for the Long Island City community,” said Kendall Charter, the branch’s youth and family director. “You can expand more, you can have more programs coming in.”

Construction on the YMCA’s existing facility was completed in 1999 on a site formerly occupied by the Swingline Inc. stapler factory. The $6 million project was financed in part with $3 million bequeathed from longtime supporter Mary Stewart, who effectively gave the Long Island City YMCA its first true home. For the previous 79 years its programs were held at satellite locations around the neighborhood, coordinated from a small office on Queens Plaza.

“We never had a building,” said Mohabir, who came on staff when the new center opened. “We just had these programs running in various fields and rented gymnasiums.”

During construction, some of the approximately 300 children enrolled in the YMCA’s summer camp will be bused to the Trinity Lutheran Church on 37th Street, which has a gymnasium, because the outdoor courts at the YMCA will be inaccessible.

“It’s going to be a little bit congested until construction is over, but we can manage definitely,” Charter said. “At the end of the construction, it’ll be so much better.”

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

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