YMCA sells Nashua site to hospital

NASHUA – The YMCA at 17 Prospect St. will be sold to Southern New Hampshire Medical Center for $4.5 million and converted to medical office space, officials from the YMCA and the hospital announced Tuesday.

While the closing isn’t until August, the sale means the YMCA will have no facility in the city from next summer until a new one opens in 2010, said Joe Manzoli, executive director of the Nashua YMCA branch.

YMCA officials have their eyes on an undisclosed site for a new location and are in negotiations, Manzoli said. The cash from the sale will be important for the organization’s goal of opening a more modern facility, he said.

“In a perfect world, we’d close the building on a Sunday night and open a new facility on Monday morning,” Manzoli said.

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Instead, YMCA officials hope to open the new site in the fall of 2010.In the meantime, health-club members will have to use the Merrimack branch of the Greater Nashua YMCA.

The building at 17 Prospect St. has housed the YMCA since 1964. Before that, the YMCA operated out of a building on Temple Street that now houses a rooming house.

The YMCA’s board of directors approved the agreement Monday night, Manzoli said. E-mails announcing the pending sale were sent 4 a.m. Tuesday to 7,500 separate addresses of members and former members, he said.

Officials from both the YMCA and medical center said the sale would help them achieve long-term goals. The two buildings sit cattycorner across Prospect Street from one another.

“This is a winning proposition for both organizations,” said Tom Wilhelmsen, chief executive officer of Southern New Hampshire Medical Center.

“By building a new facility, the YMCA will be better able to meet the needs of its members. In turn, because of the proximity of the building to our downtown campus, this purchase will expand our access to care and create better parking and convenience for our patients,” Wilhelmsen said.

“Our greatest need right now is for medical office space,” said Scott Cote, the medical center’s vice president for facilities and emergency preparedness.

Although the center’s main campus downtown is undergoing the third of three phases of expansion, the building is “at 100 percent capacity” for medical offices, Cote said.

Because the sale won’t be closed until August, hospital officials will have time to plan for the major renovation to transform the YMCA building to medical offices, Cote said.

“The timing of this is absolutely perfect,” he said.

The purchase and renovation of an existing building will save the hospital about 50 percent over what it would cost for construction of a new building and follows a model that the hospital has employed successfully at its west-Nashua campus, Cote said.

He noted that the hospital also successfully renovated the former Newick’s Restaurant on Daniel Webster Highway in Merrimack for medical offices.

“That’s worked out tremendously well for us,” Cote said.

At roughly 50,000 square feet, the YMCA building is about the perfect size for the hospital’s needs, he said.

Manzoli said the hospital has been “generous” in allowing the YMCA to stay open to next summer.

“I thought they’d want us out earlier,” Manzoli said.

Plans are for the new YMCA facility include more exercise equipment, a six-lane pool plus a second pool for family swims, activity centers and other amenities.

The new facility will also allow the YMCA to expand its outreach program, Manzoli said.

“The irony here is we’ll get a new building that will allow us to get out of the building,” he said.

Outreach programs have been curtailed because maintaining the old facility is sucking up so much of the organization’s budget, Manzoli said. The new building will probably be somewhat smaller than the Prospect Street building – which has two gymnasiums – but will be laid out better, he said.

A newer facility would also better serve families, which is the YMCA’s strong suit, said Maurice Gauthier, who is in charge of maintenance and housekeeping for the Prospect Street branch.

“It’s a great place for families,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of great things happen here.”

The new site will likely be at a location more central to most of the city’s population, Manzoli said.

The YMCA was located downtown at a time when most of the members could walk or ride bicycles to the facility, Manzoli said. That’s no longer the case, he said.

The new location is likely to be at a more central point to the city’s population, he said.

Manzoli said that as of Tuesday afternoon he had received about 50 e-mails in response to the ones sent out early that morning. Most were “overwhelmingly positive,” and the biggest questions posed were when and where the new facility would open, he said.

YMCA officials hope that members ride out the year between the closing of the old facility and opening of the new one. Manzoli said he hopes members can cross the “psychological barrier” of going to the Merrimack facility, only four miles away and just over the town line.

Working out in Merrimack doesn’t seem like a good option for Leon Nadeau because he lives in Litchfield. Instead, the retiree who was using a treadmill Tuesday afternoon said he would probably opt to work out at the Manchester YMCA instead.

Nadeau, a YMCA member for at least 10 years, said he has been coming to the Prospect Street facility because, “I just like the atmosphere and the people.”

Conversely, Steve Dooly, of Nashua, said he probably would use the Merrimack pool during the interim year.

“I guess it’s time. All things must pass,” Dooley said, taking a break from swimming laps.

“It’s going to be a tough year. Hopefully, they won’t sit on it too long before they open a new building,” he said.