Renovations of the 100-plus-year-old YWCA building are complete after 15 months of construction. Photo by Michael Buck
Next week, the YWCA West Central Michigan will open its doors and introduce the public to its brand new insides.
The YWCA is wrapping up its $7.2 million Transformation campaign this month with the completion of renovations at 25 Sheldon Blvd., the more than 100-year-old building housing the organization’s headquarters. The building was under construction for about 15 months and followed the renovation of the YWCA’s domestic violence shelter.
“If you look at what they’d been using, stuff on the fourth floor was probably about 25 years old and looked awful,” YWCA CEO Carla Blinkhorn said. “It’s hugely different for people to walk into a therapeutic environment that actually feels therapeutic.”
The project was funded mostly through independent and foundational donations, with about $800,000 coming from endowment and $200,000 from programming.
Initially planned to cost about $6.2 million, rising construction costs nudged the project north of $7 million, and IFF assisted the YWCA in securing a New Market Tax Credit that helped pull the project across the finish line.
Ground broke on the project about two years ago with the $700,000 renovation of the domestic violence shelter. The YWCA had to move survivors to another location while the shelter was under construction, but the facility now has a redone basement, family center, exercise room and connected laundry to a family room. Additionally, the Junior League of Grand Rapids installed a $100,000 fenced-in side yard that allows the YWCA to provide outdoor childcare while maintaining the shelter’s privacy.
Once construction on the shelter was complete, attention turned to 25 Sheldon. In addition to long overdue building upgrades — updating the HVAC system and bandwidth capacities, for example — the buildout added numerous amenities, allowing the YWCA to expand its services and provide a more overall welcoming space.
“If you want someone to feel like this is a place where you can start healing, it can’t look like everything around them needs to be healed,” Blinkhorn said.
That sense of welcoming starts with the renovation of 25 Sheldon’s basement floor, which Blinkhorn said had been “totally useless” previously. Prior to construction, the building’s back entrance into the basement, where many survivors first enter the safe space of the YWCA, housed the former gym building’s swimming pool and not much else.
Now, the basement has been fully repurposed. Every one of the YWCA’s services is available on that basement floor, which includes interview rooms, crisis offices, waiting rooms, examination rooms, an overnight room for the center’s on-call nurses, a lab and bathroom with a shower for sexual assault survivors. The entire floor is handicap accessible, and one exam room will be equipped with assistive technology for visually or hearing-impaired survivors.
“Everything is designed to fit whatever the needs are for anyone using it,” Blinkhorn said.
The basement level and YWCA’s therapy floor have been outfitted with a sound muffling system to give survivors a sense of tranquility and provide an extra layer of privacy. Additionally, the upgrades to the building’s bandwidth capabilities allow for YWCA staff to meet with survivors via Skype or other video communication technologies.
Because some survivors are in situations where they can’t come to the center — in instances where they might not want someone to know they’re using the services, or even just because of travel or logistic issues — making remote services available was crucial, Blinkhorn said.
“If they can Skype in for services and get access to our paralegal, get hooked up to the right attorney, certified divorce lawyer or financial analyst, they can make a lot of plans without taking a lot of risk,” she said.
The expanded space also allows the YWCA to increase its staff by about five employees, Blinkhorn said, and the organization already has hired another therapist and paralegal. Also, the YWCA can expand its internship program, as the organization couldn’t handle interns previously.
“We think that was a really important role for us with the local schools here, because we provide our interns with more training than they typically would get,” Blinkhorn said.
When discussions about the project began nearly six years ago, the first decision to be made was whether to renovate 25 Sheldon, where the YWCA has been operating since 1922, or move to another building. While there certainly were some pains with updating the current building, Blinkhorn said the organization made the right call in staying put.
“I think in the long haul, having the history of the organization here and our commitment to serving the core city is important,” she said. “It’s such a therapeutic environment now compared to what it was before. And this will still be here 100 years from now.”