FLORENCE — Florence Bank has pledged $100,000 to Hampshire Regional YMCA to support its $1.5 million mission-expansion campaign to expand available program space by developing an outdoor exercise ‘airnaseum,’ or open-air gymnasium.
Julie Bianco, CEO of the YMCA, said campaign leaders are still gathering corporate sponsorships in this early phase of the project, and so far, $361,000 has been pledged. The YMCA hopes to break ground on the project in the spring and evolve it over several years, as funds are gathered. The airnaseum and other improvements will benefit both children and adults.
“Florence Bank has been a longtime supporter of the YMCA,” Bianco said. “We really appreciate the bank’s commitment to the community. They always show up when they are needed.”
She added that Florence Bank’s support was critical during the pandemic. “They were there to offer opportunities to get us through. They understand the community because they live and work here. They understand the community’s needs.”
The pandemic was the ultimate inspiration for the airnaseum project. Prior to 2020, the YMCA had begun planning capital improvements as member activity had greatly increased over the years. “We were always looking for space for classes,” Bianco said. “Program space was a valuable commodity.”
The idea was to create more indoor space for programming, and then COVID made it impossible — and later, uncomfortable — for people to gather and exercise indoors, in close quarters. People still wanted to exercise and socialize, though, so Bianco said the Y held its classes outdoors in the upper parking lot, which was not in demand, as few members were using the building at that time.
“Then we began researching other ways to expand our program space outdoors and came upon the idea of an airnaseum,” she explained. “That concept is popular in warmer climates and is getting more popular in the Northeast. We have a wonderful property here, and people still want to exercise outside.”
Leaders of the YMCA worked with Berkshire Design Group to research and study all options, as well as create the project design, which has been approved by the Northampton Zoning Board of Appeals. Keiter Builders will be the contractor.
The outdoor exercise space will be located underneath a pavilion outside the gymnasium, where a grouping of picnic tables sits now. Equipment containers, called container gyms, will be purchased from Beaver Fit to hold the necessary gear for group classes and will be installed at one end of the airnaseum.
Installation of the outdoor space will happen in phases, with the first kicking off in the spring, when the floor of the space will be poured. “We hope to also put on the pavilion roof,” Bianco said, noting that the space’s sound and lights will be conducive to the neighborhood.
Future phases will involve updating and expanding the outdoor sports courts, improving the parking lot, and installing fencing and permanent shade sails that can be raised or lowered to provide cover from the sun.
“These spaces will provide more opportunities for families to connect and be together in a safe outdoor space,” she said. “We’re going to be able to expand the footprint of the space we have available to offer programming.”
Matt Garrity, president and CEO of Florence Bank, said he is thrilled to be able to support the YMCA’s campaign because the improvements will benefit children and families across the region.
“At Florence Bank, we like to take care of the community and help where help is needed,” he said. “We were founded in 1873 on the principle of neighbors helping neighbors, and 150 years later, we still see that as our primary mission. We keep our focus on the customers, the community, and our employees.”
Bianco explained that the bank and the YMCA have a long partnership. Bank employees sit on various YMCA committees, and the bank has offered financial support to the nonprofit organization for many years.
“For a community to thrive, we need places like the Y, where people can make social connections and take care of their health and wellness,” she said. “You see all ages, demographics, and backgrounds together at the Y. We’re a reflection of our community, and the reason we’re here is to bring people together. For a community to be healthy, we need that, and Florence Bank understands our mission.”