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Tour Wichita’s latest YMCA, which may be at WSU but is for the entire community

Sunday, January 19 2020 5:41 PM

Ronn McMahon knows that “state of the art” is an overused phrase, but the Greater Wichita YMCA president and CEO can’t stop using it to describe the new Steve Clark YMCA and Student Wellness Center at Wichita State University.

McMahon said “the latest-and-greatest equipment” at this Y is black and gold — on purpose, of course.

“One of the things that . . . we’re trying to do is create sort of an environment where . . . the average student can feel like they’re a college athlete,” he said. “Everybody can be a Shocker athlete.”


There’s been much debate and quite a bit of consternation over this Y — before it was built and since its soft opening started on Jan. 6 — but McMahon said the branch is a win on multiple levels.


He said WSU couldn’t have built the $18 million, 77,000-square-foot facility on its own.


“This is how they attract and retain students.”

For students — not all of whom wanted a health and wellness fee of about $95 a semester — he said, “They get this facility, but they also get access to 10 other facilities. That’s another win.”

Also, all Y members throughout the community can use the WSU Y, which is having a grand opening Jan. 21, when the new semester starts.

For the Y system, which McMahon says serves everyone from 6-month-olds to 90-something-year-olds, it helps tap into the 18-to-25-year-old demographic that the Ys don’t see as often as some other groups.

“So now we have access to 15,000 kids,” McMahon said. “We want to . . . give them a great experience.”


Also, McMahon said there’s the surrounding “under-resourced community.”

School officials have “talked forever about getting their surrounding community to come on campus, right, and make it accessible, but they didn’t really have a reason to come on, and now they do.”

He said that fits the Y’s core mission to serve all of Wichita.

“We want to serve as many people as we possibly can.”

McMahon said he sees an opportunity to gets kids from Y camps on campus at a young age to use the Y when there are fewer people around in the summer.


He said WSU’s educational resources can combine with the Y’s resources to help children be successful now and get in college later by visualizing it.

“Hey, I could be here. I could go to school. . . . College is an option for me.”

McMahon said that could result in a win for the entire community.

“The more we get to go to college, to stay here, the better our economy.”


A parking issue has arisen at the new Y in large part because of the Y’s focus on the community.

The branch’s parking lot is reserved for members of the community from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays — when students and faculty can’t park there.

It was a joint decision of the Y and Wichita State.

“The whole purpose of this was to be welcoming to the community and allow them access to the YMCA during those hours,” said campus Police Chief Rodney Clark.

Violators will be subject to a $25 ticket.

WSU chief of staff Andy Schlapp said students and faculty already have parking on campus.

“If you’re going to have spots for students and faculty to park, you have to have spots for visitors to park.”

McMahon said the Y system built and paid for the parking and will pay for its upkeep, which won’t come from the student fees.

He said that leads to another prevalent misconception.

“To get the Y built, the students aren’t paying anything.”

He said the university board of trustees gave $5 million, and — minus some industrial revenue bonds — the Y raised the rest of the money through people such as businessman Steve Clark, for whom the branch is named; the Shannon and Farha families; the Mabee Foundation; Spirit AeroSystems, Intrust Bank; and Wesley Medical Center, which has a clinic off the lobby of the new Y, among others.

Student fees go toward the Y’s operations, but none went to its construction.

The new 2-story Y is about the size of the nearby North Y, minus the pool.

“Still, it’ll feel big,” McMahon said.

The branch is just south of the Shocker baseball stadium, and all Y members have access to a pool on campus through the nearby Heskett Center.

There’s a lot happening in the lobby of the Y, which is mostly a light turquoise color.

There’s a Wesley urgent care clinic that anyone can use, and there’s a Student Wellness Center that, in part, will address students’ mental health needs.

McMahon said there used to be a trail from the Flats apartments on the east side to the rest of campus, and thanks to “intentional architecture” students can still walk that path through the lobby.

“And then, of course, we want to . . . create spaces for, you know, students to just hang out,” he said.

There’s a mini jumbotron of sorts hanging from the second floor over the lobby so Y members can watch games together.

Other than some vending, there isn’t any food planned at the Y because McMahon said there are so many other options on campus.

There’s a Kid Zone off the lobby where students can drop off their children while they’re working out or while they’re taking tests, which is something McMahon said students requested.

Also on the first floor is a multipurpose room for meetings that anyone in the community can use along with some lockers in a hallway for convenient use. There are locker rooms, too, but McMahon said they’re not as popular with younger people.

There are three studios for group exercise with what McMahon calls some “fancy deals,” such as lights that are timed to change with music and recording devices that can make programming more accessible to people who can’t make class.

One of the studios can be used for classes or as a community room.

Two of the studios have a number of glass doors that open onto outside workout areas to capitalize on what McMahon calls an outdoor workout trend.

“It’s just really popular now.”


Upstairs, there are a lot of weights — mostly free and plated because they’re what McMahon said are popular right now — and a long track that takes seven laps to make a mile.

The building’s track is slightly different than a traditional oval shape, with a few areas that jut out.

Another nontraditional touch is one McMahon brought with him from the Tacoma Y system, where he worked before Wichita.

There are what he calls “bump outs” from an otherwise rectangular building.

The idea, McMahon said, is “how do you make it kind of cool?”

One of those bump outs has boxing bags and will have boxing classes, unlike any other area Ys.

Another bump out has cardio equipment that overlooks the baseball stadium.

McMahon said the equipment is the latest available and is able to help people easily connect through their phones and smart watches.

“You know, two clicks and you’re on YouTube,” he said. “The technology is getting pretty cool.”

The lighting — in part because of the lights themselves and in part because of lots of windows — is a little different than a typical Y.

“We spent a fortune on lights and glass,” McMahon said.

However, at just over $200 a square foot, he calls the Y’s total price tag “reasonable.”

McMahon said there’s not a lot of masonry on the Y’s walls.

“We want to build flexibility in for the future.”

He said Y systems and other organizations make mistakes by overbuilding and can’t adapt to changing trends.

For instance, when he was with the Y system in Tacoma, he said there were 20 racquetball courts — a sport that’s not attracting a lot of new players. One by one, they had to be converted to something else.

“We know programming is going to change. We know we’re going to do something to keep people active, keep moving, connected, but (it) could be different.”

For now, pickleball players will share the Y’s gym during times when basketball isn’t as busy, which McMahon acknowledges is something of a compromise.

“Everybody wants what they want.”

In his experience, he said, that’s right down to the temperature of the pools.

The idea is to “try to make it work for as many people as you can.”

McMahon said he thinks this new Y will work for a wide variety of people, both in helping them to get moving and in helping people connect to each other and to the campus.

“That’s what we do.”


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