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The Stonestown YMCA Becomes the Nation’s First WELL-Certified Fitness Facility


The Stonestown Family YMCA is setting a new precedent for not only community rec centers, but fitness facilities across the nation. Upon completion of a $4 million renovation project, the Stonestown Y received the WELL Certification from the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI), an organization that focuses on how buildings can enhance people’s health and wellness.

A part of the YMCA of San Francisco association, the Stonestown Y is the first fitness facility to ever be WELL-certified. The facility and its leadership team received the certification at an awards ceremony on Tuesday, June 18.

“It’s really exciting to be a pioneer in this, and be able to influence the direction of the standard itself in the fitness area,” said Josh Leonard, the senior executive director of the Stonestown Y. “It’s something we’re very proud of.”

For both the Stonestown Y and IWBI, this capital improvements project was uncharted territory — however, the Y’s building performance was still measured by IWBI’s basic standards.

“The WELL building standard is built around seven different feature areas — air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind,” said Leonard. “There’s a series of stringent standards under each one of those you have to meet as you’re building the facility to be certified.”

The major focus of the renovation was improving these seven areas of the Stonestown Y. According to Leonard, the following is a brief summary of the upgrades each area got:

  • Air. “We need to have certain levels of filtration in the air system we use, so contaminants aren’t in there. There’s a measuring device in some rooms that measures the air quality, and if the quality drops to a certain point, the system brings in fresh, filtered air into the room.”
  • Water. “We make sure we have very stringent water filters in our water bottle filling stations, as well as having them spaced out and accessible, so it’s easy for people to get water.”
  • Nourishment. “This one’s about food policies for the organization. We don’t serve food in our YMCA, but it does apply to when we serve meals for staff, for example. There need to be healthy options, and options for food allergies or dietary preferences.”
  • Light. “It’s about maximizing the natural light in the facility — we actually added some new skylights to increase the light access. We concentrate on energy efficiency, so our lighting near the windows automatically dims to complement the natural light, while not adding more than we need.”
  • Fitness. “This one’s a pretty easy one for us to fill, because we’re a fitness facility. It’s about a certain number and the kind of equipment pieces, and accessibility to those.”
  • Comfort. “This is about temperature, noise and smell. It’s about whether you have automatically closing doors to the parts of the facility, like bathrooms and locker rooms, that might have odors. And we also had to meet certain sound standards, so with our HVAC units, we make sure they don’t rise above a certain level of ambient noise. That way, a quiet room — even when the air system is on — is quiet and retains the kind of peaceful atmosphere you want to have.”
  • Mind. “It’s a built-in element to make sure designs are visually appealing and natural. It also covers the support we give our members — information around health and wellness, and access to help them make better decisions about their food and drink choices.”

The primary focus of the WELL certification is ensuring a building is delivering and maintaining health and wellness standards at the highest level. And in the Stonestown Y, the capital improvements to meet these standards have made the facility feel brand new, even though the actual space of the building was increased.

“Four million dollars gave us a pretty dramatic transformation of the building,” said Leonard. “It took a building that felt pretty dark and felt pretty old, and really brought a lot of new light to it.”

These changes have already resonated well with the community. “We gained a lot of members from it,” said Leonard. “They noticed when they first came in, how different of a building it was — how fresh, new, modern, well-lit, bright and comfortable it is. That’s really where the difference is felt.”

And while the WELL Certification is new for the Stonestown Y and the industry as a whole, Leonard hopes it becomes the new standard for the YMCA of San Francisco moving forward. “It set the model for furthering what we’re doing,” he said. “We’re considering other renovations in our association, and we’re hoping to be able to reach these standards in those facilities as well.”

Bobby Dyer

Bobby is the former editor of Community Rec Magazine.

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