THE FIRST ARMY YMCA IN THE COUNTRY RE-OPENS AS A YMCA
FORT MONROE, VIRGINIA – The YMCA is reopening at Fort Monroe, reviving a history of one hundred and twenty-six years. This development is considered a significant indicator of the community’s progress in its redevelopment efforts.
The Fort Monroe Authority has reached an agreement with the Peninsula Metropolitan YMCA to reopen the fitness center facility, which has been closed for nearly four years. The YMCA will serve residents and businesses of Fort Monroe and the surrounding area, as well as the visiting boaters that dock at the Old Point Comfort Marina. “We are extremely pleased that the building will be reopening for use as a YMCA,” said Glenn Oder, executive director of the Fort Monroe Authority. “The YMCA is a pillar in neighborhoods and communities all across this country, providing a variety of services and serving as a resource to people looking to live healthy and enriched lives. Having them back here at Fort Monroe is very significant for our progress as a place to live, work, and enjoy recreation.”
The 34,020-square-foot facility, located at 8 Ruckman Road in Building 171, closed when Fort Monroe was deactivated as a U.S. Army installation in September 2011. But community interest in the Fort Monroe YMCA remains. The Fort Monroe Authority began discussions a few years ago with YMCA officials about reopening the center. A 2013 survey of residents at Fort Monroe, and in Phoebus and Buckroe, indicated that there was significant interest in it.
“The response to the survey was promising,” said Stacia Roeth, chief operating officer of the Peninsula Metropolitan YMCA. “ We are optimistic the YMCA will be important to the residents of Fort Monroe, Phoebus, Buckroe and surrounding area. We are enthused to be able to meet community needs in this service area once again.”
The Fort Monroe Authority, which acts as a landlord on the property, is completing repairs to Building 171. The work could take another several weeks, Oder said.
The reopening of the Fort Monroe YMCA would mark the return of an entity that played a significant role in the community of Fort Monroe. The first Army YMCA was established at Fort Monroe in 1889. However, they never had a permanent building designed specifically for their operations. Building 171 was originally constructed in 1903 following a $60,000 donation by Helen Miller Gould, daughter of railroad and fur tycoon Jay Gould. The building became a permanent home for the Fort Monroe Army YMCA. Originally, the building incorporated meeting and exercise rooms, an indoor pool and gymnasium. In 1935, Ms. Gould donated an additional $35,000 for the construction of a new wing that included a regulation sized basketball court, two handball courts and a new locker room. During World War II, the Army YMCA played a significant role boosting morale of local soldiers by hosting special events, dances and movie nights. Movies were shown outside on the roof top terrace of the 1935 addition.
The building was renovated several times between the 1930s and 1980s. In 1992, the Armed Services YMCA closed the building due to an overall lack of funds. A three year study was conducted by Army engineers and it was determined that $2 million was needed to bring the building up to standards. In the early 2000s, General John Abrams, former commander of TRADOC, procured the funds from the Department of Defense to reopen the YMCA building. In 2002, following an $11 million renovation, the building was reopened and operated by Army Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) as a fitness center until it closed in 2011.
“The building is in great shape and hasn’t required a great deal of work,” Oder said. “I’m sure we could have gotten another, similar business to open there, but it is and has always been the YMCA building. This is the appropriate use for the property. I’m glad we are making this happen for Fort Monroe and for our neighbors.”