Fall River YMCA to undergo $6M facelift

Grant Welker

The century-old home of YMCA on North Main Street has undergone lots of changes, like turning an auditorium into squash courts or a stage into a bathroom, as needs varied through the decades. Soon, it will adapt for another use: 42 single-room rental units on the building’s third and fourth floors.

“In simple terms, we’re going back to our roots,” said Frank Duffy, the executive director of the YMCA Southcoast, which includes clubs in Fall River, New Bedford, Dartmouth, Mattapoisett and Wareham. On Dec. 16, the club will meet with contractors to discuss proposals for the project.

For most of the Fall River club’s history, the four-story building housed more than 50 small single-occupancy units. The club began when the gymnasium was built in 1893, and the main part of the current building was added in 1903, Duffy said. The living spaces were added in 1918 when the building was expanded again, with floors above the gymnasium and a fourth floor above the main structure.

The residential units were turned into spaces for child care services and a program for at-risk youths in the 1980s when the Y moved in a direction toward families and children. Two decades later, the Fall River club will join sister clubs in Haverhill, Lowell and others across the nation in offering places for low-income residents to live. Construction is expected to begin in late 2010 and be completed six months or a year later.

The units will be small and simple. Each will be around 300 square feet — about 18 feet by 17 feet — with a small bathroom with a shower and a twin bed. There will be enough space in each room for a mini fridge and a microwave, but a full kitchen will be built on each floor, as well as a common room.

Signs of shifting uses at the Y are everywhere. An open third-floor room used for various recreational programs still has parts of the walls that once divided the living spaces jutting out a foot or so from the exterior wall. Between each cut-off wall are a window and radiator, which continue in a pattern across the back of the building.

Elsewhere, doorways that once led to an auditorium have been sealed off, and stairs lead from a hallway to a bathroom because the bathroom was once a stage. The building has no elevator or handicapped-accessible ramp.

The latest renovation — which will include an elevator — will cost more than $6 million, of which $1.5 million will come from the city’s Community Development Agency. About $3.8 million will be provided by tax credit equity funds, and most of the remainder by state housing funds.

A sale closed this fall on a sale from the YMCA to a limited partnership controlled by the Y, called Mount Hope View Housing. The sale price, $350,000, was based on market value assessments.

The YMCA was granted a zoning variance for the project in September and needs only a building permit before work can begin.

Most of the units will be set aside for income-eligible renters, but exact income figures aren’t yet set, Duffy said.

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