EVERETT — Hundreds of people braved the cold Saturday morning as they gathered outside the new Everett YMCA for a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
After about 45 minutes of speeches, the crowd made its way inside.
They were met with a warm fireplace in the lobby, near a coffee station and the front desk. A large window provided views of the pool and childrens splash area.
It’s a big difference from the old Everett YMCA, a beloved and nearly century-old landmark whose structural needs were too great and costly to retrofit for modern times.
The old space closed about a week ago, and the new one will fully open on the first day of December. Saturday was a chance for people to look around.
Construction started on the new building at 4730 Colby Ave. more than a year ago. The former Y was downtown, at the corner of California Street and Rockefeller Avenue. Part of that structure will be torn down, but the brick building from 1921 is expected to stay.
The old location had multiple floors but no elevator. The first level had a couple of exercise rooms, two pools and locker rooms, but there was no way for people with limited mobility to reach the gymnasium and other rooms on the upper floors.
Also new are singular changing rooms. They could benefit caretakers and parents who need to help someone of the opposite gender, or those in the LGBTQIA+ community who may feel more comfortable changing in a private space.
Just inside the front doors are the offices for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Snohomish County. It’s been affiliated with the YMCA since 2001, and has moved five times in the past six years.
“It’s just finally nice to be settled,” said Debbie Cobb, chair of the organization’s board of directors.
She and executive director Pamela Shields hope the new location helps bring in more volunteers. Right now about 100 children are waiting for mentors.
As the new Everett YMCA opens, YMCA of Snohomish County President Scott Washburn retires from his position. He’s been visiting the YMCA since he was born, and has worked in the organization for about 40 years.
Growing up, his father was an executive for the YMCA in Seattle.
“I learned to swim in the pool of the downtown Y in Seattle,” he said.
His family moved across the country before he entered middle school, and he stayed on the East Coast into adulthood. He moved back to Washington in 1986.
In 2008 he became president of the YMCA of Snohomish County.
Some of his favorite memories have included kids who have visited the old YMCA through the years. Some families have been bringing in their children for generations.
Washburn isn’t sure yet what his plan is in retirement, but knows it’s time to step back.
“I’m ready for the next phase of life,” he said. “I’ve been working full time for almost 40 years and you get to the point where it’s time to do something different.”
Washburn’s successor is Peyton Tune, who’s coming from Valley of the Sun YMCA in Phoenix, Arizona, where he’s been executive vice president.
As Washburn retires, the old Everett YMCA becomes a part of history. It opened in 1921, after the community raised $183,000 to build it.
The plan now is to turn it into apartments and preserve its character, said Trent Mummery of Trent Development, Inc.
His company is set to work on the site, and sale of the property is expected to close by the end of the year.
He expects to build about 270 new units — some in the old building, in a new adjoining complex and across the street where a parking lot is now.
He hopes to turn a room known as the 1920s gym into a workout space for tenants while keeping its charm. He also has found two fireplaces covered by dry wall that he wants to restore and incorporate into different units.
He believes construction could start by June 2020 and would probably take about two years to finish.
Longtime member Doug Ferguson’s parents grew up in Everett, and his mother began to visit the former YMCA soon after it opened.
“My mother and one of her younger sisters had been involved with the Y because they liked to swim, and it had the only swimming pool in town,” he said.
Ferguson has spent most of his life in Everett. He started to visit the Everett YMCA when he was about 6 years old, around 1950, and would go there every Saturday.
His mother only showed him how to ride the bus there a couple of times before he was on his own.
“She’d give me two bus tokens, one to get down and one to get back,” he said.
He continued to go there through his teenage years as a student at Everett High School.
Years passed, and when Ferguson grew up he became an attorney in town and joined the YMCA of Snohomish County Board of Trustees. He retired about a year ago and is no longer on the board. He still uses his YMCA membership card that’s now a few decades old.
He remembers when YMCA leaders started talking about ideas for the new building roughly 20 years ago.
He credits Ted Wenta with putting in much of the work.
“He was a really prime mover on this project, it was something he wanted to make happen for a long time,” Ferguson said. “I had so hoped he would be the one to cut the ribbon and be here this weekend.”
Wenta had worked for the YMCA for 32 years, mostly in Snohomish County, and was the senior vice president of operations and executive director of the Everett YMCA. He died in May at age 55 after a battle with cancer.
Wenta’s photo is on the wall of a reflection chapel in the new YMCA and the gymnasium is named after him.
Everett YMCA board member Karen Moore met Wenta in 2004.
She’s excited about the new pool that local high school students will be able to use for swim meets. She also is glad that some parts of the original building have been incorporated, such as the cornerstone from 1921 that will be used as a time capsule and fixtures from the 1920s gym.
She joined the board the same year she met Wenta, who recruited her. Right away he started to tell her about his dreams for the new building.
She thought about her friend as she walked through the space on Saturday.
“I’m sure there is a lot of rejoicing going on in heaven right now,” she said.