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YMCA plan 'progressing' in Abbotsford

An Abbotsford YMCA is closer to reality, but the project still needs the approval of council – and a $15-million commitment.

Steve Butz, the president and CEO of the YMCA of Vancouver, addressed the Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Wednesday. Afterward, social media was abuzz with posts suggesting the project was a “go.”

However, Butz later said city involvement is critical.

“There’s been lots of great progress. We do not have a confirmed project at this point.”

The project would be a partnership between the city, YMCA and Fraser Health, which owns the land – the former MSA Hospital site. Butz said there are many symmetries between the programs offered at a YMCA and other health-related facilities proposed for the re-development of the site.

Should the city decide to participate, it and the YMCA would each put up approximately $15 million for construction of the building, and the YMCA would run the facility.

“We’re coming to a point where our key partners will be making their decisions,” said Butz.

Abbotsford city manager Frank Pizzuto said, “The city would value the addition of a YMCA in Abbotsford as it would provide recreational, community and social programs that enhance community. The city has had discussions with the YMCA and will consider the budget request and implications as part of the 2013 budget, which begins this week.”

Butz said the fact his organization assumes all operating costs is what makes YMCA projects especially attractive to municipal governments.

“Building it is the cheap money,” he said. “It is expensive to build, but infinitely more expensive to operate.” He said the payroll alone, for the equivalent of 60 full-time employees, will cost about $2.5 million per year.

He said most municipal governments are looking for new ways of providing services to residents for the lowest cost, and many municipalities find the YMCA partnership attractive.

He said the YMCA has done market research that asks the question “Is this going to matter to the people of Abbotsford.” and also works to gauge the level of support his organization will find from donors. He is encouraged by what he sees in Abbotsford on both counts.

In addition to the full-time employment, the construction of the facility will bring the city 130 person-years worth of employment.

A “rough outline” of the facility is a 60,000-square-foot building with a pool, multi-purpose gymnasiums and child care services. YMCA is the largest provider of child care in B.C.

The roots of the YMCA are as an outreach organization targeting young Christian men, which began about 160 years ago. Now it serves the entire community, is in 125 countries, and “we reflect values common to all religions,” said Butz.

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