YMCA, city repurpose east side church for youth center

Above, the inside of the former Grace Evangelical Church, now repurposed as an indoor skateboard park; inset, the building exterior.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story conveyed the impression that Grace Evangelical Church is no longer operating — the church is still holding regular worship services every Sunday. We regret the error.

OSWEGO — The city of Oswego has partnered with the Oswego YMCA to open a new youth center and skatepark at the Grace Evangelical Church, located at 201 E. 6 St.

Opened on Sunday, Oct. 24. and formerly located at the Anthony J. Butch Ponzi Recreation center at Fort Ontario, the YMCA Youth Center complex allows for youth programming opportunities and provides community youth a free, safe and healthy indoor space to promote socialization, independence and responsibility.

The YMCA Youth Center will hopefully grow into a thriving resource for children aged 8 through 18 to learn new skills, skate and have opportunities to grow, according to Oswego YMCA Executive Director Kerrie Ann Webb.

“The Youth Center and Skate Park are great examples of how collaboration and partnerships between our city, and nonprofits can bring about impactful change,” she said.

Oswego Mayor Billy Barlow said he was determined to locate a free, public youth resource center on the east side of the city, and the grand opening Sunday was the culmination of a plan a long time in the making.

 “Our new Oswego Youth Center and skatepark provides a free and accessible space for Oswego youth to have access to key resources, presents fun activities and programming opportunities, and offers a safe, secure and supervised place for kids to go to skateboard, study, relax and socialize,” Barlow said, predicting the center would “play a positive role in many children’s lives in our community for many years to come.”

The new skate park is designed to be easily accessible to anyone who is new or experienced with skateboarding, taking elements from street skating or types of structures you would find in the community while skateboarding, according to Webb.

The park was relocated to increase “exposure and opportunity for our youth”, according to Webb.

“The idea of having it all under the same roof is that there are interactions,” Webb said, adding that “kids at the skate park were only at the skatepark, and kids at the rec-center were only at the rec-center.”

The project for the relocation started in summer of 2019 while the city was working on its 2020 budget and designated $110,000 for the project.

Among the local organizations or community members that provided service for the project were the North Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters #277, Universal Metal Works, Chad Roy Construction, Officers from the Oswego Police Department, the Oswego Fire Department and Exelon Generation.

Grace Evangelical Church Counsel President John Zanewych is excited that the YMCA and city is leasing the Kessler Memorial Building located behind the Grace Evangelical Church.

Zanewych said the church was excited to be able to add the rec-center to the back of their building.

"Its a great thing for us, and a great thing for them. Its mutually rewarding," Zanewych said, adding,"its really fabulous and awesome."

Two years ago YMCA officials reached out to the church to lease the back third of the building for the opportunity to relocate the youth center and skate park. Over the last 18 months the church has worked together with project officials to completion of the project.

The Grace Evanelical Church opened on June 21 and is operating weekly worship at 9:30 a.m every Sunday.

After being halted in March due to the pandemic, the project was able to continue construction after pausing for the months of March, April and May.

“There was nothing that could be done at that time, once things started opening up, construction could open up, and programming could open up, then we were able to get back to work with what we wanted to do,” Webb said

The YMCA has put in place many COVID precautions, officials said. There will be a mask requirement, sanitation station, camera systems and a sign-in sheet at the door to help tracking.

“We're following the same COVID-19 guidelines the YMCA is using in their main building and similar to what is being done everywhere else, including schools,” Barlow said.

YMCA coordinators at the youth center will have many small classes of 10 people or less. The building is set up to allow activities to operate in separate rooms away from each other allowing for social distancing, according to Webb and Barlow.

The new rec center will bring together kids to allow for fun and exciting opportunities to grow and learn, according to its builders.

“I think it is an absolutely wonderful opportunity and program we are able to provide for our youth in the area, especially that it's free and that it's a drop in,” Webb said, adding “it was a very positive thing to happen to our community, and a great opportunity.”

For more information about the youth center you can contact the YMCA front desk at (315) 342-6082.

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