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YMCA to head to the woods

The Y will replace a church on 18 acres not far away. Cool perks are planned, but not until January 2003.

By RICK GERSHMAN

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 24, 2001


NORTHDALE -- For the Bob Sierra Family YMCA, it is a good problem to have. With more than 11,500 members and families flooding the area, the place is wildly popular. But so much so that it needs room to expand. It didn't have to look far.

The YMCA plans to build its new center less than a mile northeast, where St. Timothy Catholic Church now sits.

St. Timothy is headed north, too: It plans to build a new church and offices on 28.7 acres south of Van Dyke Road in Lutz.

While plans for the recreation center call for such diversions as a community pool, a climbing wall and an alpine climbing tower, they're still about two years from existence.

The YMCA has a lease-purchase agreement with the church, but St. Timothy doesn't expect to be completely moved out until December 2002. The YMCA expects to start development of the new site in January 2003.

"We want to focus on teens and family, with a special interest in children in middle school and high school," said Steve Bowers, district director of the Tampa Metropolitan YMCA. "Over 2,000 of our members are teenagers, and we service Gaither and Sickles, two of the largest high schools in Hillsborough County. We want to allow ourselves to grow our services, specifically for youth programs."

The new site on Ragg Road is about 18 acres and surrounded by trees, providing a pastoral environment uncommon to the area, Bowers said. "We haven't really had any outdoor space to work with, so this will be really special," he said.

The YMCA plans to sell naming rights for the facility and its individual components, but for now, it is referred to as the Bob Sierra Youth & Family Center.

Bowers said the YMCA is beginning a campaign to raise $3-million for the project, which will save money by using the church building as a youth and teen center.

The youth and teen center will have basketball goals, a climbing wall, pool, ping-pong tables, a big-screen television and a stereo, Bowers said.

The plans also include:

An aquatic complex, including a large recreational pool and a bathhouse with locker rooms. While the Bob Sierra YMCA pool will remain available for swimming lessons and other more controlled swimming activities, the new pool is intended purely for fun, "free swimming," much like any family community pool. It may also include water slides.

An alpine climbing tower, an outdoor adventure course similar to ropes courses used in team-building exercises.

An outdoor education center, conceived as an uncovered area of wood benches surrounding a small wood stage. It would be used as an outdoor gathering place, a site for peaceful reflection and an environment for guest speakers to hold educational classes about nature.

St. Timothy's move also was necessitated by crowding.

As of one year ago, the most recent numbers available, St. Timothy ministered to more than 1,700 families comprising about 5,500 individuals, said Bill Urbanski, spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg. Many more have joined since, he said.

"St. Tim's is a very popular and rapidly growing parish, but it hasn't had enough space," Urbanski said. "(We looked) to find a good location that would be convenient to the parishioners and found that."

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