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The New Orleans JCC 2015 renovation was a must. People had long waits for fitness machines, and space was a constant strain between lap and recreational swimmers. And those were just some of the problems.

“We knew we had to do something to keep our members happy and better serve their needs,” said Leslie Fischman, the executive director of the JCC.

There were several needs the $9 million renovation met: an additional 14,000 square feet of fitness space was added; an indoor pool was built, which allows for year-round swim lessons and aqua exercise; three outdoor pools were put in; and the gymnasium and basketball court were renovated. The fitness center even took on a new name in the process: the Goldring Woldenberg Sports and Wellness Complex, completed by Mathes Brierre Architects.

“The thought behind the renovation was to build for the next generation,” said Fischman. “And that is exactly what we did. Young and old alike are joining the JCC to enjoy our new state-of-the-art spaces and equipment. We are now the ‘cool’ place to be. We even included a work station near the cafe area where folks can plug in their laptops and phones and work.”

The C.W. Avery Family YMCA in Plainfield, Illinois, finished its renovation in 2018. Partnering with Charles Vincent George Architects, the project included 150 new parking spaces; and added space to the wellness center, a group cycling studio and more.

“We chose to renovate because our membership base continues to grow,” said Lisa Behounek, the executive director of the Y. “With more than 15,000 members at the C.W. Avery Family YMCA, it is our responsibility to make sure our facilities stay up-to-date and meet the needs of our growing membership. We felt strongly our wellness center and existing fitness studio weren’t large enough to meet member needs during prime times.”

Behounek said one of the biggest challenges was keeping part of the wellness center open at all times during construction. Cutting the already too-small of space in half created a tight fit for members.

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Post-renovation, the C.W. Avery Y’s cardio area has a more modern look.

To overcome these challenges, the Y offered more fitness classes, encouraged use of other spaces to complete workouts and delivered top-notch customer service. And when they finished the renovation, they celebrated. “We hosted multiple grand opening celebrations, a ribbon cutting and hosted an open house,” said Behounek. “We also gave away grand opening T-shirts and other prizes along the way to keep our members engaged and excited about the project.”

The New Orleans JCC had a similar challenge in operating while under construction. At one point, they had to close the entire building for a week due to an electrical panel changeover. “Because we communicated really well with our membership, the closure did not affect business at all,” said Fischman. “The architects did a great job designing the additions in a way that allowed us to operate out of the original fitness center while construction was going on in the new building. We chose not to renovate the locker rooms at this time because of the disruption it would cause.”

However, the biggest challenge of the JCC renovation involved rushing to finish the pool by summer 2017. “Construction on the exterior of the building was still happening adjacent to the pool area,” said Fischman. “The contractors were behind schedule at this point and were forced to rush the opening for summer camp. As a result, they made mistakes and we worked all summer trying to get the pumping system to operate appropriately.”

An important lesson Fischman learned from the renovation was to have good and open communication with the contractor.

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Functional training in action at the C.W. Avery Family YMCA.

It’s also key to involve your staff, volunteers and members in projects like renovations. “Everyone brings a different perspective to the table, and I believe we found unique times throughout the project to ensure that each of these stakeholder groups had an opportunity to share their voice and help to shape the finished product,” said Behounek.

From the entire project, Behounek had three other lessons learned:

  • If you don’t have an employee dedicated to overseeing the construction, hire an owner’s rep. Behounek said it was nice to have an expert around the table working on behalf of the Y.
  • Make sure you have accurate and complete plans and drawings of the project. Having an established budget and timeline is key.
  • Start in the spring. “We broke ground in December and experienced some delays as a result of cold and wet winter weather,” said Behounek.

The challenges of renovation are worth it if it better serves your members — Fischman has seen this first hand. “Our membership never dropped, and program revenues remained constant during the construction years,” she said. “Membership has grown 20 percent, and we are known as one of the best and cleanest fitness centers in town … I am very proud of our accomplishments in creating a space that serves the New Orleans community in so many ways.”

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