By Daniel Human
Tribune business writer
— Fresh paint, new furniture and tweaks to services have led to “dramatic” increases in the Kokomo Family YMCA’s membership, the organization’s leaders said last week.
Lime- and turquoise-colored walls brighten up the century-old building’s once drab lobby and hallways. A cafe stand, Wi-Fi, a public conference room and an area with tables and chairs have been among the ways the YMCA has tried to focus more on the social aspect of the organization’s services.
Trish Severns, the YMCA’s director of operations, repeated phrases such as “family-friendly” and “social” as she strolled through the redone building last week.
“We wanted to brighten it up,” she said. “It’s a 1910 building. We just thought a little more warmth would be more welcoming.”
The changes led to a 54.2 percent increase in new memberships during June compared to the same month a year earlier.
Dave Dubois, executive director of the YMCA, said staff signed up 74 people in June, which is traditionally a slow time of year as people turn more to outdoor recreation during the warm months. The YMCA had 48 new members in June 2010 and dipped as low as 32 registrations in June ’08, Dubois said.
As the YMCA treads through the recession’s remaining hindrances, membership for all of 2011 so far has been at its third highest level in 14 years, Severns said.
The remodeling work, which has a budget of $205,000, was a response to member input and consumer surveys.
A national study of all YMCA’s revealed 32 percent of members identified their Ys as social organizations. Forty-one percent of respondents in Kokomo had the same answer, “which tells us our Y is a much more social, relational place,” Dubois said.
Work began in March on the building, which has been at the corner of Union and Walnut streets since 1910.
Rooms and hallways closed sporadically during the three-month project before the entire building reopened last month.
Upgrades to outdated styles and aged equipment and furniture intend to appeal to families and draw in new members, Dubois said.
“To me, our lobby spanned the Brady Bunch to Tom Brady, that ’60s to ’90s span,” he said.
The front lobby has undergone the most changes.
Along with the addition of a cafe area, new front counters and modern furniture, the entrance expanded on a customer service area for staff to sit down and speak with members.
There is also a new case where patrons can buy T-shirts, coffee mugs and other accessories with the YMCA logo.
Chairs and couches in the front area include flat, wide arms for writing and drawing, and there are new cafe-style tables. And a counter top provides electrical outlets for laptops and cell phone chargers.
Behind the counter, the YMCA converted a laundry room to a conference are that includes a projector and accompanying screen. The washers and dryers previously housed in the room moved to the basement, where the organization will improve the locker rooms later this summer.
Closer to the pool access in the basement, the YMCA redid hallways.
“For a lot of families, this was a kind of scary hallway,” Severns said as she stood in a narrow corridor adjacent to the pool. Brighter colors and lighting better illuminate the previously dark passage in the basement.
Fluorescent bulbs brighten basketball courts, where members used to play games with poor lighting, Severns said.
The third-floor workout room has also undergone upgrades, with new equipment and fresh paint.
Marketing for the revamped YMCA has been limited to posts on the organizations website, Facebook and Twitter, Severns said.
As word-of-mouth spreads the message about the improvements, managers hope for a much better fall than previous years, Dubois said.
The renovations should allow the YMCA to use the building for about five more years before the organization has a new facility, he said.
“I know it’s becoming the boy who cried wolf. We’ve been saying that for 40 years,” he said. “Hopefully, by the end of the year we’ll have an announcement.”
• Daniel Human is the Kokomo Tribune business reporter. He can be reached at 765-454-8570 or at daniel.human@