Of the Baker City Herald

Last year, 1,307 area children participated in the Baker County Family YMCA programs, including 342 who played what has become the Ys most popular sport soccer.

About 32,000 people including 17,000 children took the plunge at the Sam-O Swim Center in 2000.

Nearly 500 volunteers put in almost 20,000 hours helping to run Y-sponsored activities. They coached young athletes, striped fields, volunteered to offer swim lessons to the areas youngest children, and otherwise made it possible for children to enjoy the thrill of competition.

YMCA executive director Gary Stalder figures if he had to pay them all, his volunteers would have added almost $170,000 to his 2000 payroll.

And yet Stalder, who has 20 years of YMCA experience under his belt, thinks that a bigger, better facility would allow the Y to increase its outreach into the community.

The YMCA board of directors has been kicking around the idea of an addition to Sam-O for some time, but wants to have the money in hand before launching an expansion, Stalder said.

A plan drawn up by architect Jim Van Duyn depicts a gymnasium with showers and four other rooms, including a proposed family fitness center and multi-purpose room. Stalder estimates the cost of the 20,000 square foot addition would be about $2 million.

He said he has begun a grant-writing campaign to see if that level of funding is feasible.

We feel that theres lots of potential with a new addition, Stalder said. It will allow parents direct involvement with their children with planned after-school and evening activities, he said.

At least one private fitness facility owner has objected to the concept of building a YMCA fitness center, and agreements must be brokered with the city, which owns Sam-O and some of the land adjacent to it. The addition would be built on what is now a 100-by-342 foot field of weeds between Sam-O and the Baker Truck Corral.

Stalder envisions a 2,500 to 3,000 foot multi-purpose room that could be used for daycare, a YMCA day-camp program, or for recreational purposes like foosball.

The fitness center would be about the same size, he said. Child-accessible exercise equipment would be installed, and YMCA staff would ensure the machines were being used properly. Children would be certified on the equipment before being allowed to use it, he said.

There are members of our board as well as many members of the community who have middle school aged children, Stalder said. They want minimal supervision for their children, but they also want them in a safe and healthy environment.

Other rooms would be reserved for community use, including meetings and meals. One use he envisions is for groups using the swim facility an arthritis exercise class, for example to piggyback a potluck luncheon on the back of their class time.

Just 80 residents are members of the Baker County Family YMCA. When Stalder worked for the YMCA in Tillamook, 2,000 of the areas 4,500 residents were members.

Granted, they were a captive audience in that rain-soaked community, he said. But we think a full-service YMCA would bring Baker City up to the normal 10 to 15 percent membership.

A family membership costs $138 the first month and $38 per month thereafter. A youth membership is $55 the first month, $15 per month after that.

Adults pay $89 the first month, $24 after that. Seniors are charged $76 the first month and $21 each month following.

Membership entitles one to free swimming at Sam-O and reduced rates in athletic programs and other activities.