With two sets of arboretums and state-of-the-art fitness centers at St. Olaf and Carleton colleges, student and adult athletes in Northfield have plenty of space to log miles on the track or trail.

Next Tuesday, the Northfield Area Family YMCA is breaking ground on a building it hopes will give the same chances to fitness newbies and families with children. Due to open next August, the 25,000-square-foot space will feature a family-oriented pool, exercise equipment geared to beginners, showers and locker rooms and a supervised playroom for children.

The groundbreaking marks a new phase in a process that started eight years ago, when residents banded together to form a local chapter of the 169-year-old group.

“There’s really no places for families to go to be together,” said Patrick Murtha, a board member and volunteer since the group’s grass roots days.

Another issue was competitive sports. The arrangement left out kids who didn’t make the cut or whose parents weren’t able to bring them to games out of town.

“Whole groups of kids were slipping through the cracks,” he said.

A local financial adviser, Murtha also sees the issue in business terms: To have a quality business community, he said, you need amenities like the Y. “We didn’t want to be a commuter town.”

After building gradually each year since 2005, the North­field Area YMCA operates at 34 different locations in the city and county, including the Northfield Retirement Center, site of the group’s current wellness center.

Katie Coudron and her husband, both Y volunteers, go there with their two young boys, who also play in the Y’s “Wee” programs like soccer and floor hockey.

“I grew up with the Y” in Wausau, Wis., said Coudron.The experiences of camps and learning skills from sports are “a huge part of what we need to give our kids, I think,” she said. “There’s not a great place for that to happen in Northfield right now.”

The new pool and open meeting space with coffee and Wi-Fi — as well as the second phase’s planned gym — will likely be big draws at the new building. But for Director Virginia Kaczmarek, the main benefit is more holistic. It’s having “a place for everybody to come together regardless of your background,” she said, whether it’s for a family night, fitness or service learning.

About half of the current programs will move to the new building, along with its offices.

The facility, which has plans to expand with a full-size gym and family locker rooms, is seeded with $5.2 million of pledges from local business and individual donations, said Kaczmarek, plus one $50,000 grant from a St. Paul group.

“I’ve looked this up, and I think we’ve raised more than any nonprofit in town outside of the colleges,” she said. “It’s a lot of support.”

The group, which is paying for the architect and general contractor with a construction “bridge” loan, plans to raise the remainder of both phases’ $8 million to $9 million price tag by the grand opening in August.

“Our theme for groundbreaking is ‘Help Us Raise the Roof’,” Kaczmarek said. “There’s still work to do.”


Graison Hensley Chapman is a freelance writer from Northfield.