Thursday, August 28, 2014
By James Lomuscio
The spirit of the late Allen Raymond was present in the hearts of many—as well as on the huge, outdoor video screen—during tonight’s ribbon cutting for the new Westport Weston Family Y.
Raymond, a.k.a. Mr. Westport—and who was such a devoted Y proponent the road leading to the new facility is named after him—told the approximate 400 guests in a video recorded before his death May 1 at age 91 that he probably would not live to see this day. (See video here)
“This crazy kid at the age of 91 had hoped to be the first to go down the great slide into the pool at this magnificent new Y,” Raymond said. “But that didn’t work out.
“However, let no one doubt that I am here rejoicing and cheering with all of you today, and when you see that splash in the pool when no one’s around, you’ll know that I am finally reveling in Westport’s jewel.”
Hearing that, Renee Van Heerden of Westport, who lives nearby on River Lane, began to sob.
“Watching Allen Raymond, someone who was so dedicated and couldn’ t be here for the opening, it brought me to tears, and I didn’t expect that,” she said later.
More sweet than bitter sweet, however, the ribbon cutting at the Y’s Mahackeno campus off Exit 41 of the Merritt Parkway capped more than a decade of planning, fundraising, opposition, court battles, state and town approvals.
The ribbon cutting was also ceremonial since Y officials still need a few more state and town approvals before the $38.5 million, Adirondack-style facility is granted a certificate of occupancy.
The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) still has to sign off on the Y’s septic field, and final Planning and Zoning Commission and Conservation Commission approvals are needed.
“Just a few more administrative things before we can open the building later this month,” said Bonnie Strittmatter, president of the Y’s board of directors. “Actually, we’re ahead of schedule since we have to get out of the old (downtown) building by Nov. 6.”
Still, after a decade of uphill climbs, proponents were bullish, feeling home free in their new home.
“On behalf of the Town of Westport, and as its first selectman, it is my distinct honor and privilege to welcome all of you to the newest crown jewel of Westport,” said First Selectman Jim Marpe, a former chair of the Y board of trustees and member before resigning upon taking office last November.
“After a long, arduous and at times contentious journey, this magnificent facility is about to be opened to the benefit of many individuals, family and community groups that partake in the myriad of programs offered by the Westport Weston Family Y.”
Community seemed to be the operative word of the evening. Invoking scripture, the Rev. Jeffrey Rider of the Green’s Farms Congregational Church said the new building “calls us to community ...not to be alone.”
“It will serve the community for another hundred years,” said state Sen. John McKinney, a great great grandson of Edward T. Bedford, founder of the Westport Weston Family Y. “It’s a beautiful facility. I’ve been at Mahackeno before, but I’ve never seen this area look better.”
The 54,000-square foot facility is formally known as the Bedford Family Center in honor of Bedford and his descendants who have been staunch Y supporters.
As Paul Bernetsky, the Y’s chief development officer, milled among the crowds taking tours of the new gymnasium, pool area, as well as an on-site, gourmet concession stand, he echoed McKinney’s thoughts about the Y being a community resource.
“It’s a privilege to be part of this historic time for the Y,” he said.
Standing in front of the Vince and Linda McMahon Family Gymnasium, was Linda McMahon, the former U.S. Senate candidate and WWE owner whose family foundation donated $1 million to the new Y. She reiterated the theme of community.
“It’s nice to be able to do nice things,” McMahon said of her donation. “This is about the building of community.”
The Family Y building had originally been envisioned at about twice the size, but the Y had to scale it back because the nonprofit was unable to raise the required funding.
The architect’s plans provide for future expansion.
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