Last fall, the folks at the YMCA were looking at remodeling their aging facility on East Main Street. Time has taken its toll and what started out as a project that might need a few hundred thousand dollars soon ballooned into a $3 million estimate.
At that price, Executive Director Rob Walker said, maybe it was time for the Y to look for a partner.
YMCAs in other communities found ready partners in local hospitals, so Walker, in his job for a little over a year, called Dan Ireland, CEO of United Memorial Medical Center, also in his job for a little over a year, and asked for a meeting.
It was a meeting of the minds.
Ireland was already thinking it would make a lot of sense for the hospital to partner in the Y. The missions align and the two nonprofit organizations share property lines.
The logical conclusion, build a new building that would meet the needs of both the Y and UMMC.
The hospital owns property on three sides of the way, including the location of Cary Hall and the vacant lot (formerly the Elks Lodge) next to it. It would make a lot of sense, Walker and Ireland surmised, to build something new on that land and take the current Y building down.
A task force was formed, chaired by Mark Schoell, the retired CEO of UMMC, and including people such as City Manager Jason Molino, County Manager Jay Gsell, economic development coordinator Julie Pacatte and business leaders such as John Riter, of Merrill Lynch.
The planning process took another step forward today with a community forum, consisting of about 80 invited community leaders from throughout Genesee County, at City Church's Generation Center on Center Street.
Walker is quick to point out that the Y and UMMC are in the very early stages of the process, just pre-planning, but he and Ireland are pretty clearly enthusiastic about the idea.
"The level of cooperation and spirit of collaboration between the Y and the hospital has been fun, enjoyable and something that is going to be transformative," Walker said.
It's a great opportunity improve the level of health and well-being services for the people of Genesee County, Ireland said.
"Cary Hall is aging and needs work," Ireland said. "The Y is aged and needs work. We have a tremendous plot of land with parking and those buildings; we could really do a lot if we collectively come out with the right thing. The benefit to the hospital is new space so we can offer greater service.
This morning's forum was facilitated by Mary Ellen and Rick Peterson, both from the national YMCA office.
The 80 or so participants were assigned groups of five or six people with a facilitator who helped guide the discussion and wrote group thoughts and ideas on white sheets of paper. The groups were asked to take about 12 minutes on each of five questions, such as what challenges the community faces, how those challenges can best be met, what can be done locally to help families, and how can personal well-being issues be addressed.
All of those sheets of paper -- dozens and dozens of them -- were gathered up after the meeting and the task force will now review them and use them to produce a report by May or June on how the Y and UMMC can best meet community needs and what should go into a joint facility to meet those needs.
"We can't just take the Y in Rochester or the Y in Buffalo and take a cookie cutter and drop it in Batavia," Walker said. "All the stuff that is in this room right now, on the walls, this is what we're going to take and make spaces to meet those needs. We don't know what it's going to look like, but it's going to be pretty."
Walker said the task force will also be able to draw on needs assessments completed by other area agencies over the past few years, such as the Office for the Aging, Health Department, school district and United Way.
The applause line of the morning came from one gentleman sitting at the back of the room who pointed out the participants were all white, and mostly close in age. He suggested there needs to be some needs assessments from a group with greater diversity and representing a broader range of community members.
Both Walker and Ireland said the gentleman's comment was right on target and that there were people invited who could bring greater diversity, but they didn't show, so there will be some follow up with them.
"We recognize the need to strengthen the task force so there is an equal representation," Ireland said.
Walker was clearly energized by the morning's discussion and believes if all of these plans come together into a real project, it will transform Downtown, transform Batavia and, in fact, all of Genesee County.
"Today was pretty inspirational for me," Walker said. "The minds, the passion here for Batavia; it's a proud community. We have tremendous potential to make this projection transformational and make Batavia a destination city."