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SERVING AREA'S GROWING NEED

The Greater Palm Harbor YMCA is spreading out to offer its members more ways to live a healthy life.

Just three years after opening its doors, the Greater Palm Harbor YMCA is already experiencing growing pains.

Construction is now under way to expand the facility by 10,000 square feet. When finished, it will boast 24,000 square feet, state-of-the-art equipment and a freshened interior and exterior in earth-toned colors.

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The need for more space became apparent about a year and a half after the facility at 1600 16th St. opened in October 2004, said Randy Nilsson, the branch's executive director.

"We really needed more equipment and programming space for our members," Nilsson said. "Sometimes during peak periods, members have to wait to use the equipment."

The $2-million dollar project will include an expanded wellness center, a new group exercise studio, new activity rooms and social spaces - even a massage parlor for those with sore muscles. Renovations include new paint, flooring and other decorative touches.

Members greeted news of the changes with great enthusiasm.

"We were just talking about it," said Christina Nisperly, 38, who was working out in the corner of a hallway with a personal trainer. "I'm excited and can't wait until it's ready."

Nilsson said planners designed the infrastructure of the facility to accommodate future expansion. They just didn't know it would be necessaryso soon.

"We grew faster than the studies suggested we would," Nilsson said. "They said build it and they will come. Well, they came."

About 6,000 of them.

Many of the 2,300 households were young and growing families. According to Mandy Griffith, marketing and communications director for the YMCA of the Suncoast, 52 percent of the Palm Harbor facility's members are families, the largest demographic of all nine branches in the Suncoast.

The star attraction of the remodeled facility will be a 5,700-square-foot wellness center, double the current size. It will feature new equipment, flat screen television sets and a floor-to-ceiling bowed glass wall on the northern exterior.

Across a hallway, next to the Kids' Zone, will be a new multi-purpose room for community activities and specialty programs.

The main entrance will move to the north side of the building where a covered drive will lead to a bright and airy atrium with soaring ceilings.

"It will have a casual, Starbucks-like atmosphere with coffee and plenty of seating," said Nilsson. One of the original YMCA logos will be featured in stained glass.

A much larger 2,700-square-foot group exercise studio will be moved to the northeast corner of the facility. And a second multipurpose room across the hall will accommodate specialty classes such as cycling, karate, dance and tumbling.

Hennessy Construction Services of St. Petersburg broke ground in December and is expected to complete the project in the fall. Fleishman Garcia, a Tampa-based architectural firm, provided the design.

The YMCA of the Suncoast will underwrite most of the price tag but fundraisers are also under way.

Personalized bricks, to be laid near the entrance, are for sale at $250 each. A fundraiser is also scheduled for tonight, which will feature YMCA member success stories, food, a costume contest and door prizes.

Griffith said it's important to note the story is not all about bricks and mortar.

"It's about the people and accommodating their growing spirit, mind and body," she said. "Our pledge is to keep our promise that no one is turned away from the YMCA programs and services due to inability to pay. We want to serve everybody and don't want to close our doors to anybody."

Reach Terri Bryce Reeves at treeves@tampabay.rr.com.

FAST FACTS

If you go

Tonight's party will feature food, book signings, raffles, door prizes and a costume contest from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Meet poolside at the Greater Palm Harbor YMCA at 1600 16th St. Admission is free but donations are welcome. Call (727) 787-9622 for information.

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