SCHENECTADY – The downtown YMCA on Monday became the first of the “urban” Ys in the Capital District to reopen to members since the coronavirus pandemic began in March 2020.
The Schenectady branch at 433 State St. reopened with limited hours – 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, with the three hour shutdown for cleaning and due to its labor shortage, Executive Director Jenn Hirtle said Wednesday.
It’s open 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays and closed Sundays for the time being.
“We have staffing challenges, same as everybody else,” said Hirtle, who was named to her post in February, after her previous position, chief operating officer of the Glens Falls branch, was eliminated due to the pandemic.
“So we’re building back up, and we need to build back up our membership.”
Gyms of the other “urban” YMCAs in the district, Albany and Troy, remain closed, although community programs are still being offered outside of their buildings, officials said.
Hirtle is also executive director of the Glenville branch, which reopened in April with limited hours that are similar to Schenectady’s. Glenville went to full-day operations in June.
“It’s slow going at this point,” Hirtle said of Schenectady gym-goers this week. “We’re happy that we’re back open. And we’re going to continue to build back from what has been a devastating pandemic this year.”
Schenectady’s wellness center is fully open, but its sauna and steam room remain closed until further notice. Members in good standing can visit other branches in the region, such as Glenville, Clifton Park, or Guilderland, for those services.
Schenectady’s group classes – spin, Zumba, yoga, active older adults – are running on a limited basis.
In terms of staffing, Hirtle said the Schenectady branch wasn’t “getting people applying the way we normally do.” But she said people are inquiring about jobs as they check in.
There are openings available for the wellness and membership desks, childcare sites and before and after-school programs.
Some employees returned to their positions, but others found jobs elsewhere during the pandemic and chose not to come back, Hirtle said.
Others “weren’t comfortable coming back yet, and that’s OK,” Hirtle said, acknowledging the varied comfort levels.
The biggest draw for members thus far has been pickup basketball, with a group of 16 and older playing 9 to 11 a.m. twice a week, and another group during evening hours.
“We’ve been watching that come in and that’s been really nice,” said Hirtle, adding SUNY Schenectady students are also slowly starting to return to get their memberships restored.
The community college students enjoy free memberships to the Schenectady branch.
Hirtle said Y officials were eager to reopen an urban facility in the region.
“Schenectady is the one, and we’re very happy to be open and and we’re working towards getting our others open. Our urban branches just financially had taken this hit during this pandemic. We were a $40 million association. We’re down to a $20 million association. Our membership is still less than 50% in our association.”
Members who are not vaccinated are asked to wear a mask. But the facility is operating under the honor system.
“It’s your choice if you are vaccinated if you want to wear your mask,” said Hirtle, who’s vaccinated yet wears a mask because she has a 4-year-old child who’s not vaccinated.
She said members have been understanding about social distancing.
Asked if the organization was essentially starting the program from scratch, Hirtle said, “It’s like a clean slate. That’s kind of our positive coming out of COVID. In some ways, we get to kind of rebuild what we’re doing and it’s going to be tough, and it’s going to be long and it’s going to be hard. But we’re excited about it, and the new opportunities.”
Rebecca Atwell, executive director of the Troy and Albany branches, who works out of the Schenectady branch once a week, said the Schenectady branch’s first large-scale event will be a Community Give Back Day from noon to 4 p.m. Sept. 18.
Atwell said the event aims to reach underserved populations and close gaps in care, particularly health disparities and food insecurities.
“We are going to be offering health screenings to help folks know their numbers to reduce the risk of heart disease, particularly high-blood pressure. We’re also going to have some healthcare teams giving lectures, one of those being COVID vaccine hesitancy, and we will be offering COVID vaccines here at the event that day,” Atwell said.
Working with multiple national and local sponsors and participants, including a regional food bank, the event will serve as a point of pickup for a multitude of supplies, including fresh produce, groceries, and toiletry items. Assistance will be available for building resumes and accessing the workforce. Representatives from the state Department of Labor and Department of Health will be on hand, she said.