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Putting the 'Y' back in Berkeley

July 16, 2006|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD


A "full" $6 membership in the Young Men's Christian Association of Martinsburg when it opened in 1909 entitled one to "house privileges (and use of) the bowling alleys, gymnasium, shower baths, swimming pool, medical and physical examinations, class training with all accompanying gymnastic and athletic features."

"Bachelor apartments" in the YMCA's newly constructed eclectic, mission-style building at 124 W. King St. were available for $6 per year.

"It may not be possible to see every man and boy to ask them to join the association, but it is hoped that everyone who is eligible will consider this an invitation to join and help ... swell the membership," a newspaper reporter wrote about the fledgling YMCA's membership contest.


The year before, the building's anticipated opening was front-page news. The group's board of directors, led by Berkeley County's own U.S. Sen. Charles F. Faulkner, voted unanimously to award a construction contract to S.A. Westenhaver of Martinsburg. The cost for everything, including the land, furnishings and utility work, was $35,000.

"The meeting adjourned amid much enthusiasm on the part of the directors and the building committee," the Martinsburg Statesmen Democrat reported on Jan. 24, 1908.

That excitement proved to be short-lived, and 22 years after the YMCA opened, published reports suggest the Great Depression apparently forced it to close, but that could not be confirmed. The building was sold to the City of Martinsburg for $35,000 on Jan. 11, 1932, according to Berkeley County Courthouse records.

Now, almost 100 years after Faulkner's leading effort, another member of West Virginia's delegation in Washington is backing a new initiative to open a new, albeit fully integrated, YMCA in the community.

"A YMCA in Martinsburg would be a wonderful addition to this thriving community, and I'm proud that we've been able to help spearhead the initial effort to hopefully make this very worthwhile goal a reality," U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito said.

"Having previously served as the president of the Charleston YWCA board, I have seen firsthand the good that community-based programs do for their communities," said Capito, R-W.Va. "A YMCA in Martinsburg would bring an excellent amount of programs and activities at both the family and individual level that would suit a growing community like Martinsburg very well."

Armed with Capito's support, YMCA of Hagerstown leaders and the not-for-profit organization's national resource office helped John Reisenweber, Capito's Martinsburg field office representative, conduct a "needs assessment" survey in May.

About 40 "movers and shakers" in the community were interviewed in one day at Blue Ridge Community and Technical College, Reisenweber said last week.

The survey results, expected to indicate support for some type of YMCA facility, will be presented Wednesday to the Hagerstown YMCA's board of directors, executive director Michael Flicek said.

"More than likely, what the board will do is discuss creation of an ad hoc committee" to further guide the initiative, Flicek said.

"They may elect to do that Wednesday; they may elect to do that at the next meeting (in September)," Flicek said.

Need for an indoor pool

Flicek said he would play an active role in first determining whether Martinsburg and Berkeley County leaders truly are committed to building a YMCA facility before marketing and feasibility studies begin. The facility's purpose and revenue streams also would have to be identified, he said.

"Certainly, aquatics seems to be a huge need in the community," Flicek said.

Former Martinsburg City Councilman Rick Wachtel, who served on a committee hoping to enclose the War Memorial Park pool several years ago, agreed.

At the time, Wachtel said there also was a "desperate" need for an indoor recreation center as well, and the Berkeley 2000 Recreation Center ultimately was built.

Now as chairman of the Eastern West Virginia Airport Authority, Wachtel supports providing land for a YMCA facility at the airport's industrial park.

"Recreation does complement industrial parks very well," Wachtel said. "Companies are always looking for wellness programs for their employees."

The YMCA initiative will be part of the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Parks & Recreation board of directors meeting Tuesday, executive director Steve Catlett said last week.

"I don't know where it's going to go," said Catlett, who was somewhat concerned about whether a fee structure implemented by the YMCA would exclude low-income individuals and expense of a sorely needed indoor aquatics facility. Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, W.Va., has the only facility in the Eastern Panhandle.

"It's a very costly facility to operate," Catlett said. "It's a different beast to take care of than a gym."

Though Catlett does not dispute the need for the facility, he said large regional parks such as the 100-plus-acre Poor House Farm Park also should be established in the northern and southern parts of the county. Catlett also would like to construct regional recreation buildings in the county, as well as expand the Berkeley 2000 Recreation Center in Martinsburg.

"This may be the opportunity (for an aquatic center)," Catlett said. "If this doesn't happen, I don't know when it will."

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