YMCA’s ‘airnasium’ taking flight: With construction of outdoor gym underway, officials launch public fundraising phase

News – Local – Daily Hampshire Gazette | November 7, 2023

NORTHAMPTON — When it is completed next spring, the Hampshire Regional YMCA’s new 2,250-square-foot outdoor gymnasium, or “airnasium,” will feature exercise bikes, weight racks and a roof to protect members from the elements. But it still needs some more funding to achieve that goal.

The organization held a ceremony on Monday at its Prospect Street location to mark the beginning of construction for its outdoor gym. Although billed as a “groundbreaking” ceremony, ground had already been broken on the outdoor area where the gym will be built near the existing playground, making the ceremony more symbolic in nature.

CEO Julie Bianco that while the ceremony may seem like a minor event in the grander context of the world, it served the organization’s purpose of helping others.

“I do want to acknowledge that sometimes it’s difficult to express excitement and hope with all the violence and suffering happening in parts of our world today,” Bianco said in her remarks at the ceremony. “That’s why we strive to be a place where all can come together in peace.”

The project was conceived in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, when social distancing requirements forced many indoor activities to be moved outdoors. As YMCA leaders considered outdoor expansion ideas for their 4,500 members, they stumbled upon the idea of an “airnasium” which is already prevalent in southern areas of the country. The YMCA worked with Berkshire Design Group to research and create the project design, and engaged Keiter Corporation as the contractor.

The YMCA has raised $600,000 of its stated $1 million goal. Bianco said that the organization plans to utilize some of its savings until the rest of the money is raised.

“This [fundraising] has been more strategic so far, like asking the banks and getting ARPA funding,” she said. “So now it’s time we go to the community.”

Contributions to the fundraiser have included Florence Bank, PeoplesBank and Greenfield Savings Bank, executives of which were present at Monday’s ceremony.

“I just thought it was important to make sure that we could be part of the cause,” Greenfield Savings CEO Tom Meshako said. “After the pandemic and everything, it just seems a lot more people are caring about their health.”