Haverhill YMCA Suggests New Fitness and Learning Center at Northern Essex; Housing Downtown

Police Academy graduation ceremonies within the Sports and Fitness Center at Northern Essex Community College. (Courtesy photograph.)

The Haverhill YMCA would enter into a 99-year lease at Northern Essex Community College, build a new building and athletic fields and “repurpose” its downtown Haverhill building into housing if it is ultimately selected to redevelop part of the college’s Haverhill campus.

As only WHAV reported in March, Northern Essex Community College is turning to the private sector to potentially address about $9 million in deferred maintenance at its more than 50-year-old Sports and Fitness Center and surrounding athletic fields at its Haverhill campus. Similarly, YMCA officials say, “…our Y can’t do all that it needs to do to meet the needs of our community, due to our current location and outdated facility.”

“Partnering with Northern Essex Community College to build the new Haverhill YMCA on their campus would enable us to meet this objective and strongly support NECC’s objectives as well,” reads a portion of the Y’s response to a state request for information. It said planning and subsequent construction could be completed within three years.

Plans would build on an existing relationship where the Haverhill YMCA and college partner on a childcare center. The YMCA proposes to lease the property for 99 years for $1 and its existing Winter Street building would be converted to an “affordable housing development.” It adds, however, it is open to discussion on lease terms.

“As we assess new facilities, we not only look to provide community centers but also affordable housing. If we were provided access to this location, we would be able to convert our current YMCA facility into affordable housing units in downtown Haverhill. This opportunity would allow us to provide approximately 45 units of family housing and convert our current 52 single room occupancy units to studio apartments.,” according to the Y’s proposal.

Specifically, the existing college Sports and Fitness Center Building would be demolished and replaced by a 60,000 square-foot health and fitness center; 10,000 square-foot early learning center; academic achievement center, serving the Y’s targeted middle school and teen programming; outdoor multi-sport turf fields and fitness studios, created in collaboration with Northern Essex and Central Catholic High School.

The Health and Fitness Center would feature an aquatics center, group exercise studios, mind/body studios, strength and training area, indoor track and multi-use gymnasiums, field house and gymnastics/cheer center, pickleball courts, community collaborative space and community café. A physical therapy center would also operate in collaboration with local hospitals and service providers and accommodate Y members and college athletes while providing free babysitting services for children aged 6 months through 11 years of age.

The YMCA said its plan would be paid through capital campaigns, public and private funding, long-term debts and non-traditional financing sources.

Potential features could include on-site physical therapy; health clinic; counseling center; technology center geared to Northern Essex students, Whittier Regional Vocational Technical High School or Haverhill High School during afterschool hours; expanded food pantry; and expanded home for the college’s police academy and other nonprofit and youth-serving organizations.

Besides the Haverhill YMCA, Maine-based Treadwell Franklin Infrastructure responded to the request for information with a general plan to be developed in concert with talks with the college.

It proposes a 50,000-90,000 square foot building that would include a strength and fitness center, running track, courts, multi-purpose studios, locker rooms, possible field turf and ancillary use and classroom spaces. The company is currently “working on a confidential university project with some similar attributes to the project contemplated by NECC.” The company said it is “working with a sports and program management company started by two former NFL players.”

The state said earlier the request for information is not an invitation to submit final proposals. Instead, information received will help it write “an RFP or other procurement vehicle that would allow it to enter a long-term lease of the property, via a competitive developer selection process.”

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