The YMCA of Coastal Georgia is investing $1.6 million in capital improvements for the West Chatham YMCA facility in Pooler. This fall, the most-trafficked branch of Coastal Georgia will see renovations to critical infrastructure such as its gym space, lobby and parking lot that will modernize and expand the wellness center.
The investment represents the YMCA of Coastal Georgia's first major capital project in Chatham County since 2005 and serves as the launching point for a long-term capital strategy to address community trends and needs across the association, reads the YMCA's press release.
"With this much-needed renovation, we're looking ahead to the future and working to ensure that our facilities and services are ready to serve for the next 50 years," said Joel Smoker, CEO of YCMA of Coastal Georgia.
Demographic and modernization studies took place in 2018 before the pandemic delayed strategic planning. With scheduling back on track, renovations to the 50-acre complex are set to begin in September and are expected to conclude next April or May, according to Smoker.
The current fitness center floor will be opened up to make space for additional activities and new equipment. The lobby, which members and students often use as a workspace or sit-down area will also be redone.
New state-of-the-art wellness activities and programs such as LIVESTRONG at the YMCA and a blood pressure self-monitoring program coupled with EGYM smart strength system will streamline and personalize visitors' fitness experience.
Other programs such as the YMCA's Safety Around Water programming, nutrition education, chronic disease prevention programs, summer day camp programming will receive help from this investment as well, said Summer Bozeman, Director of Communications and Marketing for the YCMA of Coastal Geo
Programs and activities will continue during the renovations, said Smoker. The fitness center will most likely be moved to the gym. After-school and daycare programs will migrate outside to the pavilion and stay in line with state licensing standards, Smoker added.
All this encompasses phase 1 of the long-term capital strategy. A phase 2 has not begun yet as funding has not yet been identified.
With the upcoming remodeling, the facility hopes to improve the general health of the local community coming out of a years-long pandemic, Smoker said.
The YMCA of Coastal Georgia cites a recent study from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that found the body mass index in children ages two to 19 nearly doubled after the pandemic.
Smoker acknowledged that people struggle to pay for health care. Residents may not be able to afford the $53 monthly membership for individuals or the $66 for a two-adult household. The YMCA has scholarship programs and income-based funding for those who are struggling financially, he pointed out.
"This is where the Y comes in -- we invest in proven programs to prevent and control chronic disease and improve health outcomes by supporting people with welcoming places for physical activity, opportunities for nutrition education, and a community for peer support," Smoker said.
West Chatham growth
Since 1989, the YMCA of Coastal Georgia has expanded from two branches in one county to 10 in seven counties in response to the rapid growth of suburban communities in the region.
Over the last few decades, west Chatham County's population has risen exponentially. In 2000, west Chatham cities -- Pooler, Port Wentworth, Garden City and Bloomingdale -- had a combined population of about 23,500.
In 2020, that number had more than doubled to 49,400.
Most of that growth came from Pooler and Port Wentworth, where sprawling subdivisions took over previously undeveloped land. The relatively affordable homes and increase in jobs boosted by commercial and industrial sectors attracted residents from across the map.
As a result, Pooler's YCMA facility has bore witness to the population boom and commercial growth.
In 2001, when the center first opened, it was one of the few businesses on the stretch of Pooler Parkway. Now, the main corridor is one of the busiest roads in the Savannah area, connecting major housing developments to commercial businesses and the two interstates, 95 and 16.
"Pooler is no longer the sleepy community it used to be," said Smoker.
As of now, the Pooler Y has about 7,000 members plus 1,700 additional program participants. In 2021, the facility had about 120,000 visitors, but Smoker added that things are still getting up to speed since the pandemic.
Learn more about the YMCA of Coastal Georgia or find a facility near you:
Nancy Guan is the general assignment reporter covering Chatham County municipalities. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @nancyguann.
This article originally appeared on Savannah Morning News: Pooler YMCA receives $1.6 million investment as West Chatham grows