Hutton Marshall | Contributing editor
Early next year, San Diego County’s largest YMCA facility will open just a few miles southeast of Mission Valley’s core.
The Copley-Price Family YMCA, clocking in at 53,000 square feet — not counting the parking garage, outdoor pool and soccer field — will open in late January at the intersection of Fairmount Avenue and El Cajon Boulevard in City Heights. Thanks in part to a massive, 3.7-acre land donation by Price Charities, the new facility will nearly double the size of the old Copley Family YMCA, which has operated in a small complex on Landis Street near University Avenue for the past 56 years.
The opening of Copley-Price coincides with the end of the Hazard Center YMCA, which closed at the end of November. Members of the Mission Valley YMCA will be able to use the Copley-Price YMCA — or any other YMCA in the San Diego region — since Mission Valley memberships are priced at a regional level.
Courtney Harrness, who will oversee Copley-Price’s programming and day-to-day operations as its executive manager, said he expects people will be taken aback on their first visit.
“The perfect word is ‘grandiose,’” he said. “It’s so over the top and that’s exactly what we want to do. We want every single thing we do to be over the top — every single experience to be amazing. We want people to walk in the door and be blown away, then walk away thinking ‘this is an amazing place. This is awesome.’”
While Copley-Price’s recreational facilities will be big step up, Y staff and community members are excited by something more significant than the opportunity to get a better workout. Harrness said the opportunity to open such an immense YMCA in a historically underserved neighborhood like City Heights is a rare occurrence, one that presents a great opportunity for those involved.
“You don’t find YMCAs like Copley-Price in the city,” he said. “It’s not quite a social experiment, but it’s a commitment to social change.”
Many of the social and family services will be geared toward family services and healthy living. A large demonstration kitchen will offer classes on healthy cooking and nutrition. Much of the floor plan is devoted to a childcare center, three preschool classrooms and a massive teen center.
“It’s the biggest teen center that I’ve seen at any YMCA anywhere,” Harrness said.
The teen center will include a lounge, a homework area and a computer lab, which is also open to other members. Membership is required to access the center, but the Y’s Teen Incentive Program will allow adolescents to earn free membership through documented classwork improvement and community service.
Hoover High School is just a few blocks down the street, and both Harrness and Hoover Principal Joe Austin said the two entities plan to work together extensively. Copley-Price will open at 5 a.m., an hour earlier than originally planned, to accommodate the schedules of teachers wishing to exercise before work.
Austin, who began as Hoover’s principal in February after running a neighboring elementary school, said the new Y will be “a huge boon for the kids at Hoover.”
“Every day I drive past it and I just can’t wait,” Austin said. “It’s going to transform this community. I really feel like it’s going to be a centerpiece in City Heights.
“There’s just nothing about it that I’m not in love with frankly,” he added.
Harrness, who recently moved to San Diego after working at a YMCA in Boston, said his previous facility was located on the border between two communities with a household income gap similar to City Heights and its northern neighbors. He said he’s seen evidence that the YMCA has the power to bridge the two culturally disconnected communities.
“We always say ‘when you get everyone in workout clothes … it’s really hard to tell who’s who, and who has what, and who doesn’t have what,’” Harrness said. “So in Boston, I saw people talking to each other in the Y that would never have run into each other outside of it. Their paths would never have crossed.”
In 1994, Price Philanthropies began the City Heights Initiative. The comprehensive redevelopment project focuses on everything from education to housing to business development to health initiatives. Donating the parcel of land for the new YMCA facility is just one of many large financial contributions made to improve the quality of life among City Heights residents.
“The new Y should accomplish several things to that end,” wrote Price spokesperson Derryl Acosta in an email. “It will be a gathering place for residents of three communities (City Heights, Talmadge, Kensington). It improves the community’s physical appearance. It expands child care, after school tutoring, health education, recreation, etc. It also expands the job market.”
Copley-Price’s mission to build up the community also factors in to its membership model. It will offer up to 50 percent off discounts for low-income residents, and it will set aside a large portion of funding — Harrness estimated around $400,000 — to help families pay for membership fees. He said this stems from the YMCA’s commitment to inclusion.
One key staff member at Copley-Price is still absent from the roster: its executive director. In addition to overseeing Copley-Price as a whole, the executive director is responsible for community outreach, fundraising and external relations, an incredibly important position for an entity planting deep roots in the community. YMCA staff said they hope to hire an executive director in early 2015.
Update: The YMCA of San Diego County recently stated that the Copley-Price YMCA’s grand opening would be delayed until late January rather than Jan. 3. This post has been update to reflect that.
—Contact Hutton Marshall by email at email@example.com.