Y not dream?

Board members and staffers wave pieces of the red ribbon they've just cut to mark the moment they've all been working toward all these months and years. — File photo by Ralph Stewart

Just 13 months after the first shovel was poked into the earth at the site along the Vineyard Haven-Edgartown Road, the new 35,000-square-foot YMCA of Martha’s Vineyard opened for business, and pleasure, on Saturday, June 19. For some it was the culmination of a dream that’s been cultivated for decades. For others it was proof that passion, dedication, and a little luck can be blended into a wonderful product.

In the early 70s, Annie Mechur of Oak Bluffs started the ball rolling. “Having been a swimmer all my life, and knowing what it means to a community, I wondered why we didn’t have a full-size pool on the Island,” she recalled on Saturday. The idea simmered for several years, but by 1986 she and a few cohorts had raised $25,000 from the six towns for a feasibility study for what they called the Martha’s Vineyard Aquatic Center, which would be built on Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School property.

Financial support for the idea was slow to grow, despite the best efforts of Ms. Mechur’s group, and plans for a building lay dormant until the late 1990s, when the idea of incorporating the pool into a YMCA was proposed and then adopted. Expanding the use of the building to include a fitness center, a café, and spaces for child care and community gatherings would attract a broader constituency and deepen the pool of potential donors. And using the Y template would substantially recude research and development costs.

A board was formed and dreams began to be shaped into plans. On Saturday, the result of those plans — a true community creation — was officially opened when dozens of Islanders wielded scissors to cut a ceremonial ribbon. Included was a time line of board chairmen — from Annie Mechur, Ken Bailey, Georgia Morris, Cindy Doyle, to Chuck Hughes, the current chairman — along with board members and staffers and volunteers. Former board chairman Jan Pogue was unable to attend.

Before the ribbon was cut, the crowd was welcomed by Mr. Hughes, who thanked all those who had helped make the new Y a reality — from Annie Mechur to the teenagers who in minutes would be signing up new members inside the big, handsome building or serving as life guards as swimmers started to fill the pool. He recognized Islanders who had donated a few dollars as well as the Metric Construction Corp., which built the project at cost, knocking approximately 10 percent off the building’s $11 million price tag.

Jill Robie, the Y’s CEO, then introduced a succession of speakers, including Sen. Rob O’Leary, Rep. Tim Madden, architect Ken MacLean, school superintendent James Weiss, and Oak Bluffs selectman Duncan Ross.

Mr. MacLean, who with his wife and business partner Stephanie Mashek designed the building, described some of its hidden features, many of them based on green technology. For instance, the water in the pool is treated with ultraviolet light before it is pumped into the pool, which reduces the amount of chlorine needed to purify the water; the plantings around the building will be irrigated by rainwater collected from the roof and stored in a 2,000-gallon cistern; and natural or recycled materials were used in as many applications as practicable.

After the ribbon was cut, the crowd poured through the doors, some to sign up as members, some just to check out the place. Since Saturday, an average of 35 new members have signed up every day.

There is still work to be done. Some $3.5 million in loans need to be paid off, for example. On Tuesday, CFO Brian Mackey described an active capital campaign whose goal is to pay off the loans by the end of 2010.

The next stage will include a basketball court with a running track above it, estimated to cost $2.5 million, on the west end of the building and the Alexandra Gagnon Teen Center ($1.2 million) on the east end.

It would take a dedicated pessimist to bet against an even more complete community center filling the site before too long.