Our Views: Parker YMCA positions Milton for bright future

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Friday, November 8, 2013

In the lobby of the new Parker YMCA in Milton on Wednesday, two workers sat on the floor and organized colorful sign letters as if assembling a large jigsaw puzzle.

Other workers created a buzz of activity, surrounded by extension cords, vacuums and tool boxes. Amid the commotion, Tom Den Boer expressed confidence that the place would be ready for Sunday’s open house.

That seemed evident, as well. Toys and play equipment filled the child-watch and preschool rooms. Rows of new exercise machines stood in rooms ready for fitness fans. The gym floor glistened. Water filled a whirlpool.

Those attending the open house will be impressed. The facility will offer features for the entire family. A youth center, just beyond the lobby, will have computers and table games and be open to adults when kids aren’t using it. Outside, a new athletic field—irrigated no less—awaits players. It will mark the first time a YMCA in Rock County will have a field on the same property.

Sunday’s event will mark the culmination of strategic planning that started in 2006. Den Boer, chief executive officer of the YMCA of Northern Rock County, and others sensed a need for programs and services beyond downtown Janesville. The YMCA rented space for satellite centers in Milton and on Janesville’s northeast side. These drew about 1,000 new members and suggested a need for this new complex.

The $4.6 million facility might not have been possible without the Parker family, whose generosity stretches back to the first and then the current YMCA in downtown Janesville. Descendants of George S. Parker, who founded the pen company that bore his name, offered $1 million, including a $500,000 challenge grant. That, Den Boer says, spurred other donors by assuring them that this plan would become reality.

This complex will be more to Milton than a place for family activities and exercise. Den Boer believes it will serve as a central nerve center that brings Milton and Janesville closer. It doesn’t have a swimming pool, but the building was designed so one can be added. With space around it, the Parker YMCA has room to expand as the community grows. A short drive from the new Highway 26 bypass, the facility positions the YMCA to serve Milton and neighboring communities for many years to come.

Rock County is undergoing a major economic shift after the loss of factory jobs in recent years. State highway officials are steering us toward that future with the bypass and pending Interstate expansion. The Parker YMCA is opening ahead of this change in economics, Den Boer reasons. As he suggests, it should draw homebuilders and serve as a benchmark for those considering business investments.

The city of Milton owns undeveloped Crossridge Park to the north and built the Parker YMCA’s parking lot. Milton Mayor Brett Frazier shares Den Boer’s enthusiasm.

“It definitely is a critical time in our city’s history,” Frazier says. “We are forced, whether we like it or not, to redefine ourselves in a present that includes a bypass.

“Having amenities like a Y hopefully keeps more of our citizens here at home, taking advantage not just of the Y but also our parks and other amenities. It says something to businesses that are here that there’s a strong consumer base in Milton, that we support new businesses and opportunities. Yes, it’s a critical time. But I think the future is bright, and I think this is just the first of many success stories we’ll see in the future.”

The visionaries behind the Parker YMCA and those who donated to it deserve applause.

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