Jim Schwarzenberger, executive director of the Newton Area Chamber of Commerce, believes now is the time for the city of Newton to make an investment in its future.
The Newton Chamber board of directors recently voted to formally support efforts to bring a YMCA to Newton, and they encouraged community members to work to move this project forward.
"The message we will send to all who will check us out online, drive by the facility on I-135 or hear about it through word of mouth is 'this community cares about health and wellness,'" Schwarzenberger said in a statement on behalf of the Chamber's board of directors. "Having this new family-friendly and affordable enterprise in Newton would set us apart."
"We think that the YMCA coming to Newton is a fantastic opportunity for the community," agreed Leroy Koehn, Chamber board president. "It's no different than another business coming to town with private dollars."
The Greater Wichita YMCA announced earlier this year that it planned to construct a $15 million recreational facility at the Newton Medical Center campus. The facility will be on a 12-acre tract of land donated by the hospital, and the community is being asked to raise $5 million in private funds for the project.
Schwarzenberger said the project will result in at least 100 permanent jobs, and it will be built and operated with private funding, not tax-payer dollars.
He and the Chamber board believe the new YMCA would attract tax-payers from around the region. He also thinks the new facility will help to combat the rise in obesity and other health-care concerns by encouraging people to maintain healthier lifestyles.
Chamber board members hope the new YMCA and the Newton Recreation Center will be able to work together and coexist in the community, and they think both organizations have a role to play in the future of Newton.
"Both can thrive and grow in this community," Chamber board president Koehn said.
Brian Bascue, NRC superintendent, thanked the Chamber for including the Rec Center in their support and for keeping the center involved.
"We're just glad the Chamber supports what we have accomplished here," he said. "... I think people understand what an asset we are in the community."
Schwarzenberger said community members already have made "a good start" raising funds for the YMCA project, and he encourages them to keep persevering.
"On rare occasions, a community such as ours is presented with an opportunity to advance its economic vitality in a very substantial way," he said. "The Chamber believes it is time for our community to step up and take advantage of one of those rare opportunities."
The YMCA's original goal was to open the Newton facility on Jan. 1, 2015. The planned two-level facility will include strength and cardiovascular fitness areas, an elevated indoor track, two gyms, an aquatics center and two racquetball courts.