A new Y for a new year

Sally Shoup was standing next to a treadmill in the Ashland Family YMCA, unsure of what to do next. When staffer Andy Eck inquired whether he could help, Shoup asked a question that will be repeated a lot this week: "What happened here?"

YMCA members who haven't been to the 68,000-square-foot facility in a while might feel a little lost. Walls have been removed, areas dedicated to yoga, weight lifting and child care have shifted, and new equipment has been installed as part of a $750,000 renovation project to improve safety and provide more efficient and pleasing spaces.

"Yes, we have remodeled," says Lisa Molnar, who has been the executive director of the Ashland YMCA since 1988. "Even though this Y has a long history of upgrading and adding new programs to meet the needs of our 7,500 active members, a lot of people walking in now are confused when they don't see their machine in the same spot."

The changes, which took place over the last 12 months, are part of a strategic plan and were funded by designated reserve accounts.

Most of the improvements were made to the original structure, which was built in 1990. The gym was added in 1992, the aquatic center in 1999 and the fitness center in 2002.

Members can request a complimentary orientation tour and get advice on how to use equipment that is new to them. The free session can also include a complete fitness assessment and a personal exercise plan. Another one-on-one with a trainer costs $40 to $50 per hour or less for a series of sessions.

A tour of the changes could start downstairs in the new childcare area, which houses a kitchen, the Discovery Days Preschool and the Kinder Club after-school program with its crafts tables, playhouse and fort.

On the ground floor, the previous childcare area and some staff offices were converted into a Wellness Studio for yoga, pilates and other stress-reducing classes that were formerly held in the mezzanine located over the clamorous basketball courts and gymnastics area.

"Although our renovations were done on a pretty strict budget, we did want to create a beautiful space here," says Molnar of the studio's wooden floor and floor-to-ceiling windows with fiber shades that allow soft, natural light to filter in.

The large, L-shaped mezzanine is now being used for weight training. Dumbbells, kettle bells and physioballs are lined along walls, leaving plenty of floor space for walking lunges and other functional movement training to strengthen muscles and improve balance. "Functional training is hugely popular," says Eck, the fitness center's senior program director.

Free-weight equipment was once racked in niches, narrow walkways and corners of the stretching room.

"Now, a person can be stretching out on a mat and not have someone next to him slamming a ball or holding a dumbbell over his head," says Eck. "Before, it was crowded but we've created a much safer place and accommodations for people in wheelchairs."

Shoup, 76, who had been feeling lost in the renovated fitness center a few minutes before, is now in the old weight room where the Life Fitness ab crunch, leg curl and other circuit training machines have been set in a circle.

Shoup is greeted by Laurie Evans, the health enhancement and older adult program director who oversees the weekday senior circuit class.

"Find a piece of equipment to start with because we're about to begin," says Evans to Shoup. "I'll stay very close to you to make sure you don't get injured. But I have to warn you that our group gets loud, and singing and dancing are encouraged."

Afterward, Evans says that most of her regulars, who know the equipment well, reacted to the larger, brighter space in a predictable way: They thought the equipment was new.

"Actually, it was just their thinking that had changed," says Evans, "and change is good. It makes our brains work differently."

Reach reporter Janet Eastman at 541-776-4465 or email jeastman@dailytidings.com.

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