Sugar City sign

SUGAR CITY – A recent YMCA feasibility study shows the need for such a facility in Sugar City.

“We’ve just taken baby steps to go through some of the data and look at what the community needs are,” said Idaho Falls-based YMCA CEO Monica Bitrick.

The YMCA recently hired Brigham Young University-Idaho students and the RBDC to do the feasibility study. The two groups provided the study for $5,000 - substantially less than what companies normally charge for feasibility projects, she said.

“This is definitely a win for us. With all those other firms, it was very very costly. We were looking at $20,000 to $30,000 for just one study. That was part of the reason we were moving so slowly. We didn’t have the $20,000 to $30,000 to throw at it,” she said.

Thanks to BYU-Idaho and RBDC, the YMCA managed to cover the $5,000 but is asking Sugar City residents for a reimbursement of those costs. Bitrick says that it looks like it won’t be difficult to raise the money for the reimbursement. 

“I know some of the supporters are rallying together. I would say we would have all the funding within the next 60 days,” she said.

The feasibility study showed that residents are in favor of the YMCA setting up shop in the community. It also showed that residents wanted a swimming pool. The city doesn’t have its own such facility, and those wanting to swim need to go to either Rexburg or Ashton to do so, and those community pools are open only during the Upper Valley’s short summer months.

“There’s a big need for an indoor year-round pool. That seemed to be the biggest thing that came out of the study. I don’t think that was really surprising to us,” Bitrick said. “People want a year-round swimming pool. They also want a place where you could do indoor sports during the winter months and other programming like kids after school programs and indoor sports like volleyball.”

YMCA officials have considered developing a YMCA in the Old Farm Estates development or inside a Main Street building.

“Right now we’re still in the very, very, very, very preliminary stages of anything. With any type of partnership or location, we have to kind of fine tune and comb through anything before any decision is made,” Bitrick said.

The size and the cost of a Sugar City YMCA has not yet been decided, she said.

“If you were to look at doing a 60,000 square foot building with the pool, you’re probably looking at anywhere from $25 to $40 million. That’s a lot of money,” Bitrick said.

Bitrick said that the YMCA Corporation looks to partner with various organizations such as school districts and government entities to cover the cost of new YMCA's. It also works with various health care providers.

“You have to look at donors that could be family foundations. There would be individual donors and businesses. We would apply for grants,” she said.

Bitrick said the responsibility for finding donors and building the project would be entirely up to the YMCA.

“One hundred percent of it lays on our shoulders. We would figure out ways to partner with other groups to help offset some of that cost. We would have to do a capital campaign,” she said.

Sugar City Mayor David Ogden said he couldn’t speak for the city council and didn’t know how they felt about a proposed YMCA.

“I think the city has yet to receive enough information to support it one way or the other. We haven’t seen any applications from them. It’s too soon for the city to make a comment one way or the other,” he said.

While Ogden doesn't know what the city council wants, he said that he would like to see a YMCA be built in Sugar City.

“Personally, I would like to see that happen. I think that would be good for the city,” he said.

Two years ago, and shortly after Ogden was voted into office, a YMCA was proposed for the city. While it was suggested, not much was said about the matter following the original discussion.

Bitrick reported that YMCA officials have considered a Sugar City facility for the past decade.

“There has been discussion about having a YMCA up in that area for probably 10 plus years. There have definitely been discussions,” she said.

Bitrick reported that she was approached about starting the Sugar City YMCA about two and a half years ago.

“I’ve visited with a couple of different developers to see the needs and to try to determine if it was a project we wanted to take on. The board made the decision. They were interested. They could see the need especially with the growth in the Rexburg Sugar City area with students and businesses coming in,” she said. “Really and truly, Rexburg and Sugar City are the hub for northeast Idaho, Wyoming and Montana.”

Bitrick also met with Sugar-Salem School District officials about the possibility of a YMCA in the community.

“We just shared with them some of the information we got with the feasibility study,” she said.

Sugar-Salem School District Superintendent Chester Bradshaw said that Sugar City would benefit greatly from a YMCA.

“We don’t have anything like that. We don’t have a swimming pool or opportunities for those things. We have to go Rexburg to get those things,” he said.

Bradshaw reported taking YMCA officials on a tour of the district’s junior high school located on Main Street. He reports that the school district will need to build a new junior high in the ensuing years as the school is overflowing with students. He said it would prove cost effective to construct a new building rather than fix the one they have. The junior high school is structurally sound, and YMCA officials expressed interest in the school, Bradshaw said.

“Their plans right now are big. They couldn’t house everything they’d like to do now in the building. They’d like to build an Olympic sized swimming pool. They’d have to do that in the back. An Olympic size swimming pool is in their plans. They’re thinking big,” he said.

The junior high is located in the old high school building on Main Street.

“It’s really visible. It would be good actually. The concept is really really good. It would be good for our community. The junior high is a structure people already know,” Bradshaw said.

He reported that the YMCA officials were especially interested in the classrooms that are, of course, available in the junior high school.

“One of the things I didn’t know is that the YMCA needs a fair amount of classroom space. They always bring in doctor’s offices specifically for physical therapy,” he said. “I was showing them all the classrooms, and they said ‘We need classroom space like crazy.”

Bradshaw said meeting with YMCA officials proved a very positive experience, and that having a YMCA in the community would prove a boon for residents.

“I think it has a lot of value for us in Sugar,” he said.

In the meantime, Bitrick plans to meet with RBDC and BYU-Idaho officials to review the report.

“We’ll go over the study (to decide) what those numbers mean and to figure out some of the next steps,” she said.

Nothing is set in stone, and it could still take several years before a YMCA is built in Sugar City, Bitrick said.

“We’re a few years out at this point in time. Before we can even do construction, we need the funding,” she said.

Capital campaigns to fund multi-million projects take up to five years, Bitrick said. She noted that the Treasure Valley’s YMCA recently opened after a decade of work.

“They had a handful of partners – the school district, Ada County, the City of Meridian, the library, St. Luke’s. That was a 66,000 square foot facility, and that was a 10-year project,” she said. “In between the different partnerships and getting all of the funding, they walked into a building that is essentially debt free.”

That’s the goal for the proposed Sugar City YMCA, Bitrick said.

“We would want to have all of the funding to make sure we walked into the (Sugar City) building debt free the first year of operating expense. Those first years are growth years,” she said.

Bitrick reported that the YMCA’s mission is to “incorporate health into mind, body and spirit” in all the organization’s programs from toddlers to senior citizens. The Idaho Falls facility has been a part of the community since 1946. The organization started in London 175 years ago and opened its first U.S. facility in Boston in 1851.

What is the YMCA’s secret to success?

“I think every community is different. Every YMCA tries to address the needs of the community,” she said.

Bitrick said that Idaho Falls YMCA is vastly different from the Seattle YMCA.

“What Seattle does is help address the homelessness – it’s a huge issue in their community. For us, we get to really serve the communities we’re based out of in unique ways. What I’ve seen, the YMCA continues to innovate the programming to make the most impact,” she said.

As for the potential Sugar City YMCA, any donations made toward the facility’s feasibility study may be tax deductible and all the funds donated stay with the Sugar City project, said YMCA officials in a press release.

For more information on donating toward the Sugar City YMCA feasibility study, visit https://ops1.operations.daxko.com/Features/OnlineGiving/DonationDetails.aspx?cid=2108.