By Tyler Allen Explore Big Sky Senior Editor
BOZEMAN – People occasionally walk into the Gallatin Valley YMCA’s office on South 23rd Street in Bozeman with their swimsuits on, wondering where the pool is. The Y is synonymous with swimming in most communities, but doesn’t have a facility in Gallatin Valley.
A proposed project with the city, one that would also use county land to build a parking lot and sports fields, would change that.
“The Y is the biggest unknown nonprofit in the valley,” said Ashley Ogle, chair of the Gallatin Valley Y’s capital campaign committee. “It serves 5,000 individuals with programming.”
The $10.5 million capital campaign has raised slightly more than $2 million since November 2013 to build a 40,000-square-foot “dry recreation” center, and plans to use an adjacent City of Bozeman aquatics facility for its swimming programs.
The Y hopes to break ground in fall 2015 on land bordering Gallatin County’s 100 Acre Regional Park on the west side of Bozeman. The organization won’t start construction until its reached 75-80 percent of its goal for the capital campaign, according to the Y’s CEO Andrea Stevenson.
“The YMCA is very fiscally conservative and we want to go into this facility with the best foot forward,” she said, noting that the organization doesn’t receive any money from the YMCA of the USA or government funding. “All the money has to be raised from the community.”
With a 3-2 vote, the Bozeman City Commission on June 9 approved a city partnership with the Y to build an aquatics center on Vaquero Parkway. The commission voted down two other options: partner with the Y on city-owned land at Rose Park, or build its own facility there without the Y.
City Commissioner Chris Mehl voted against the Regional Park location, making the case for the Rose Park partnership instead.
“I thought the [Rose Park] location made more long-term sense for the city and it had what was needed in size and location,” Mehl said. “[I asked] ‘what if the Y didn’t meet its fundraising goals?’ I’m playing with house money.
“We need a new pool without question from the city’s point of view,” Mehl said. “The Y is serving the city and county, and we’re booming. I’m certainly hopeful we can pull this off and optimistic that we can.” The city’s facility is still in the “dream stage,” according to Stevenson.
The Y signed a 70-year lease for 16 acres of the county’s land a decade ago, which ensures the Y can go forward with its facility if the city doesn’t get its money. It signed, a “Memorandum of Understanding” with the county on May 27, which ensures the facility will have ample space for parking and sports fields on the Regional Park land if the city cannot raise the funds for its facility. The Y gave back 12 acres of the county’s land when it signed the deal in May.
“We came in, made our deal with the Y and got out of the way,” said Gallatin County Commissioner Steve White. “It’s a great project and I hope they’ll be successful with it.”
Currently, the Y partners with Eagle Mount Bozeman to use its pool for swimming lessons and the Bozeman and Belgrade school districts for gym space for its basketball and summer camp programs.
“We wouldn’t have been able to do this without the county allowing for more parking for the facility,” Stevenson said. The Y doesn’t deny anyone from their programs due to financial constraints, she said, but kids are being turned away because of space. Currently, there’s a waiting list for all of its programs, she added.
If the Y is able to raise another $8.5 million and the City of Bozeman can convince voters to chip in for an aquatics center, those waiting lists could be a thing of the past.