Life June 26, 2018

Converging at ‘The Hill’

Health and education at the center of new Meridian YMCA collaboration

Local YMCA facilities have always been known as community centers that offer a variety of services to residents, including exercise equipment and classes, camps for children, aquatics, and more. But the new YMCA in south Meridian is taking “variety” to the next level with its partnerships in health care, public schooling, and a city-owned park.

The 60,000-square-foot, $18.5 million facility located on Amity Road just off of Eagle Road, celebrated its grand opening over Memorial Day weekend, after more than a decade of planning by the YMCA. The land the facility and its partnering organizations occupy was once owned by Meridian farmer Marti Hill and his partner, Dixie Cook. Hill’s grandfather began homesteading the land in 1891, making it one of few to be awarded a Century Farm designation, which it received in 2001.

David Duro, president and CEO of the Treasure Valley YMCA, said that when Hill and Cook retired from farming, they envisioned having a Y and a park for south Meridian, which is one of the fastest growing areas in Idaho. They donated 15 acres of land, and developer David Turnbull of the Brighton Corporation donated an additional 8 acres of land.

Duro said the Y made strides on making the location a reality just before the Great Recession in 2008, before the land donations came through. “That made us put it on hold. But as the economy recovered, there was this opportunity to have donated land from the Hill family,” he said.

The partnerships came together over time, Duro said, as they discussed community needs and how to provide the maximum benefit to the community through the property. “This is really a one-of-a-kind collaboration in the nation that we know of, and the strength of it is that in every case, the organizations that came to the table providing services, they gave something to the collaboration but are also getting something back,” Duro said. “That’s one of the things that’s really resonated with our stakeholders, including the people who have made large financial donations to make this possible, is they really love the way all the partners are working together to provide this benefit.”

Partners in Play and Prevention

The Y itself looks standard from the outside, but much more is going on inside and around the building. It shares its hallways with Hillsdale Elementary School, which opened in 2016 for West Ada School District families. The school shares its grounds with 10-acre Hillsdale Park, which is managed by the City of Meridian. The park opened for the school’s use in October 2017.

Because of the partnership, Hillsdale Elementary did not build a gymnasium into its school plans. Instead, hallways connect to a youth gym at the Y, which will be locked down for the elementary school’s use during school hours then open for all youth programming in the evenings. In addition, the school did not build a playground, because the city park will serve as their playground during school hours. The playground features signage and playground sets that are themed after the original Hill farm.

“That’s what we are really excited about, is the design elements of the park and how it really honors the history of the land and the farming implements,” said Meridian Mayor Tammy de Weerd. The signs in the park look like seed packets, and there are murals of farmers on the side of the picnic shelters. One of the play sets is shaped like a John Deere tractor, the Hill family’s cattle brand is stamped inside the picnic shelter, and the benches are designed to look like hay bales. “It’s really to honor the gift and acknowledge the roots of the land.”

Inside the Y is St. Luke’s Center for Lifestyle Medicine. Pat Lara, administrator of the heart and vascular program at the hospital, said the center is part of modern medicine’s trend toward preventative medicine and overall population health. The center, comprising 8,000 square feet, focuses on addressing the root causes of common health problems, such as diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and cancer, as well as preparing patients for faster recovery before they receive joint surgeries or give birth. Services include classrooms for health education, as well as a teaching kitchen, consultation rooms, and a transitional gym, which will also be available during designated hours for YMCA members who may not feel comfortable working out on the main cardio floor.

“Lifestyle contributes to 80 percent of communicable diseases worldwide,” Lara said. “It’s as simple as eating more plants and vegetables and whole foods, moving more, avoiding alcohol and tobacco and having social connectedness … which sounds easy enough, and everyone knows they should, but really 3 percent of the population does all that stuff per the guidelines.” The center has a group of dieticians, psychologists, social workers, physical therapists and exercise physiologists to help individuals make sustainable behavioral changes.

In another wing of the Y, St. Luke’s has a small Children’s Health Clinic with a nurse practitioner and nurse. Katie Apple, senior director of business operations for the St. Luke’s Children’s Hospital, said the clinic is open to the public but will primarily serves Hillsdale Elementary and children in the Y programs. Nurses at the clinic are able to quickly serve students who don’t feel well, test for viruses or other contagious illnesses, and determine whether the student needs to be sent home or not.

Future Directions

A “tiny library” will be placed at the front of the YMCA facility until the Meridian Library District can raise enough funds to have a larger building. A bond to build the library failed to reach a two-thirds majority in 2016.

The YMCA originally wanted to have a pool as part of the facility as well, but the 2016 bond to finance the pool also failed to reach a two-thirds majority. Instead of trying a bond again, Duro said the Y is working to raise those funds privately.

“The really great part is the site is all totally prepared, the infrastructure is there, it would be just a basically bolt-on component to the rest of the Hill,” he said. “We’re in the beginning stages of (fundraising), we’ve got some leadership recruited, and we do have our first couple of gifts toward that effort. After just raising $18.5 million it’s a lot of work to put that together, but we have a very generous community.”

This article appears in the Summer 2018 Issue of Territory Magazine.