After being devastated by Sandy, YMCA Fitness Center shapes up

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Fairfield YMCA Executive Director Karen Backus shows off the new Fitness Center. (Rich Pittera photo)

It was the largest storm on record to come up the East Coast. At its peak, “Superstorm” Sandy ripped through Fairfield, taking down trees and power lines, flooding coastal neighborhoods and pushing houses into the ocean.

When the sun rose the next day and the water began to recede after the morning high tide, it soon became apparent that, like thousands of other homes and buildings on the eastern coastline, the Fairfield YMCA was also a victim of Sandy’s fury.

The day after the storm, Executive Director Karen Backus and Facilities Director Bob Lewis entered the building to survey the damage. At first glance, aside from the power and other utilities being out, everything seemed to be OK. However, as they opened the door to the basement and began to walk down the stairs, they stepped into a flood of problems.

“The electricity was out and there was no light so I couldn’t see much,” Backus said. “Halfway down the stairs I took a step and my shoe was instantly soaked.”

Sandy dumped ocean water into the basement, breaking the pool’s circulator pumps and causing pool water to leak into the basement as well, trapping thousands of gallons. The water remained for four days, until the Southport Volunteer Fire Department was able to respond and pump the water out of the building.

The daylong process of pumping water out revealed that two hot water tanks, the circulator pumps for the pool and heat, gas control to the boiler, as well as the Strength and Wellness Center, were all destroyed.

In the following weeks, the YMCA staff worked tirelessly to clean up the mess, record what was ruined, and attempt to get back to the day-to-day operations. After three weeks the heat was restored and a week after that the pool was back to running. Pre-K students were able to return to their classrooms by the first week of December.

Gradually, things began to get back to normal.

“Our members and community were very understanding and supportive,” Backus said. “It was a difficult time for many, especially those who had their children enrolled in our day care.”

Still, the YMCA had to find a way to replace the Strength and Wellness Center destroyed by the floodwater. A decision was made to move the equipment upstairs and into the existing gymnasium. A center divider was set up and the basketball court was given a facelift, including new nets and a new coat of paint.

With new purchases of state-of-the-art cardio equipment and strength machines, along with donations and acquisitions from the recently closed Norwalk YMCA, the other side of the gymnasium began to shape up. Finally, on April 11, First Selectman Michael Tetreau and Backus cut the ribbon, marking the official opening of the new 2,400-square-foot Strength and Wellness Center.

“It’s very important to our town that the YMCA was reopened,” said Tetreau, who used the fitness center for his own rehab after a ruptured Achilles tendon in 1996. “In a time where physical conditioning is of such importance in our lives, it’s great to have a place that is so welcoming.”

Six months after the storm, the Fairfield YMCA, which has been around since 1964, is better than ever. With approximately 3,200 members, the community organization has something to offer for all ages. The pool, basketball court and Strength and Wellness Center are open for use by all members.

To celebrate its reopening, the YMCA announced that it is waiving the joining fee to those who sign up before the end of April.

Registration for summer camp has begun for kids from pre-k through 12th grade. Camps offer a variety of options, including a nine-week session and shorter sessions as well.

“We’re very happy with the upgrades we were able to make,” Backus said. “It’s an exciting time for both the present and future at the YMCA.”

Information on the Fairfield YMCA, a branch of the Central Connecticut Coast YMCA, may be found at FairfieldY.org.

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