The future of the Dorchester County YMCA is up for discussion, as the Board of Directors considers relocating the facility to Cambridge Harbor. The proposal has met with mixed reactions from the community, with some calling for the existing facility to be upgraded, while others believe the move is necessary to accommodate the changing needs of the community.
At a recent CAN meeting, YMCA officials presented plans for a new 70,000 square foot facility at Cambridge Harbor, which would include a six-lane heated pool, an indoor walking track, double the gym space, and additional space for programs. The proposed facility would be located on the waterfront and is projected to serve 7,800 individuals, citing similarities to the new Kent County facility that has grown its membership to 6,200. The cost of the new facility is estimated to be between $22-25 million.
However, concerns have been raised about the proposed move. Some members of the African American community have indicated they are not comfortable utilizing the current site because of the past use of the school as a segregated white high school. While staff members have acknowledged that there have been African American individuals who voiced this discomfort to them privately, members of the audience indicated substantial African American participation in many programs and the overall use of the YMCA. Staff members also noted that the existing site lacks space for the walking track, warm water pool, and larger enhanced multi-purpose spaces.
Additionally, questions were raised about the loss of tax revenue at Cambridge Harbor if non-profits locate at the site, as well as the impact on traffic and bike access. YMCA officials indicated that the move is necessary to accommodate the changing needs of the community and that the proposed location at Cambridge Harbor is a neutral area for folks to come together, away from the segregated past of the old high school location and provide more equitable access to the waterfront.
The YMCA of the Chesapeake serves 45,000 members, with ten facilities on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, as well as one location in Chincoteague, Virginia. Prior to the pandemic, the YMCA was looking at options to upgrade and improve the existing Talbot Avenue facility, which would likely have cost $6 million. However, the pandemic highlighted the need to better understand the needs of the community, particularly in the area of swimming/water safety for kids and adults.
The Dorchester YMCA would like to add capacity for other programs for kids and teens, but are constrained by the current space, which limits the ability to add certain programs. The YMCA would also like to focus on other chronic disease prevention and memory assistance programs for adults. While the current YMCA location (40,000 sq ft) serves 3,100 members, the proposed new facility would be located at Cambridge Harbor and would likely serve 7,800 individuals.
Next steps for the YMCA are to determine if the funding required for the project can be raised. The footprint of a new YMCA would be approximately 1.4 acres and CWDI is supportive of the move to Cambridge Harbor. YMCA officials have stated that the current location would remain open during the construction period of a new facility, and that they would work collectively with the City and local residents to determine what might happen with the existing property.
While the proposal is still in the exploratory phase, it has generated significant interest and discussion in the community. Some have voiced support for upgrading the existing facility on the existing site, while others believe that the move is necessary to accommodate the changing needs of the community. As the discussion continues, it remains to be seen what the future holds for the Dorchester County YMCA.
Letters to Editor
William Weis says
In my opinion this location is to totally inappropriate. The waterfront offers much more for the growth of Cambridge as a tourist destination.. The YMCA is an asset to any and every community, but it should be located in an area accessible to the community members and not located on prime real estate.
Eva M. Smorzaniuk MD says
I would encourage readers to go to the website of CWDI and read about the vision for the waterfront and the community of Cambridge. This project will allow for residential, commercial, and public spaces that will showcase the unique historical and natural resources of Cambridge. It will be a place for locals to live, work, recreate, and gather. It will be an attractor to tourists for its beautiful waterfront setting and rich history, as well as hotels, eateries, and shops. In other words, a vibrant community rather than a Disney-like enclave for tourists only.