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As a football coach, Northside resident Dominic Moreno appreciates the art of a good workout.

He also knows the Harriet and Joe Foster Family YMCA serves as more than a workout station or a hangout after work or school. Ultimately it’s a center for the community to connect and push for each other’s betterment.

And as chances for connection have been at a premium over the last 18 months, the local YMCA is aiming to foster even more of it with its ongoing renovations. The facility completed the first phase of a renovation project last week at 1234 W. 34th St. and is shooting for Phase 2 completion in early January.

“There are plenty of gyms that you can choose from in this area, but I like the homeliness setting that the YMCA offers,” Moreno said. “It’s not so much people competing with other people. They expanded it to help keep with the competition outside the YMCA, but they’re also staying true to their roots.”

Recently-completed renovations focused on the weight room and group exercise studios. The facility added more square footage as well as additional pieces of cardiovascular and strength equipment to better serve members, according to a news release from the YMCA, and renovated the group exercise studios while adding additional equipment to provide opportunities for a wide variety of classes designed for every fitness level.

The facility also completed its project to heat the outdoor swimming pool to help provide opportunities for aquatics programming year-round.

“The YMCA, for so many communities, is a community center – it’s serving the needs of those people living there,” YMCA District Executive Director LaKeisha Harris said. “I think as the area is growing and developing, we have to be in tune with that.”

In particular, the weight room and wellness center was nearly doubled in size, according to Harris, by transforming what was an administrative space into additional workout space by knocking down the wall and adding more equipment.

Moreno was at the facility Tuesday doing weight squats and lunges, and said the expanded workout area was a positive addition to the existing spot.

“I really like the openness of it all. Not that I didn’t like the previous setup, but it was a little more compact and clustered. Here, you have the opportunity to move a little more freely,” said Moreno, a football coach at nearby Lutheran High North who comes in at least twice a week. “They added more squat racks, which I really appreciate. I think it keeps things more circulated around here, and gives people a little more of their personal space.”

Room for everyone

According to Harris, Phase 2 renovations are already underway on the facility as they work to accommodate the growing Garden Oaks/Oak Forest area. The $2 million project was conceived about two years ago, Harris said, in response to a growing demand at the YMCA.

She said there were anywhere from 2,500-3,000 membership units – whether an individual or family – visiting the 34th Street facility on a weekly basis before the pandemic, though current volume is about half of that total.

“The facility was already a little small – we had a lot of interest and a lot of traffic," Harris said. "As a result, people were waiting a long period of time for pieces of equipment to work out. So the need was pretty apparent.”

Among planned Phase 2 renovations are a new outdoor pavilion that will feature a multi-purpose court for outdoor group exercise, basketball, pickleball and other sports as well as a modernized welcome center. There will also be what Harris called an “intergenerational room,” which is meant to be a program space that can be used to engage both the YMCA’s seniors and teenagers who take part in various activities.

Senior activities such as luncheons and bingo tournaments would still be held for seniors during the day, while the typical afterschool activities such as leadership courses, card games and more will still be available for teenagers, according to Harris. But as with everything the YMCA does, she said there is potential for more connection between generations as the community grows.

Ideas for activities, such as storytelling/writing times or card games are still in the brainstorming process, according to Harris.

“There are a lot more families who need a family YMCA,” she said. “We’re really about meeting those needs, and we couldn’t do that in the way that we wanted to without expanding our facility.”

As Moreno finished up his workout Tuesday afternoon, he praised the YMCA for how it has toed the line between expanding for the sake of its community and to keep up with competing gyms such as LA Fitness and others, while keeping the same family and community-centered camaraderie which has long defined it.

Phase 1 of the renovations has not disappointed, Moreno said, and more are on the way.

“This is a community that encourages other people being fit and the wellness of other patrons,” he said. “The expansion is good, but keeping it closer to home is also what I appreciate.”

For more information about the YMCA of Greater Houston or ways to get involved, visit ymcahouston.org.

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