The San Antonio Public Library System (SAPL) and the YMCA of Greater San Antonio are teaming up in a new facility that will connect the dots of holistic wellness in fast-growing Northwest San Antonio. The new facility rethinks what it means to be well and informed with innovative spaces to encourage exercise, healthy eating, knowledge, and collaboration.
San Antonio Public Library Branch Coordinator Cheryl Sheehan and YMCA Mission Advancement Communication Director Stephanie Jerger see the joint venture as a natural union.
“Obviously a lot of our goals are the same,” Sheehan said. “(We want) to change people’s lives with health and information.”
The Mays Family YMCA at Potranco and the Potranco Branch Library will coexist in a 58,000 sq. ft. building, which was once a supermarket.
Councilman Ray Lopez (D6) prioritized the project in the 2012 bond in order to bring these kinds of services to the community.
The location made sense to both SAPL and YMCA. The two miles around the site are populated with young professionals and young families, yet it was still “underserved” by major institutions. Sports teams and swimming lessons are not as easily accessible as they are in other parts of town. The YMCA will bring two pools, flexible rooms for classes, and sports teams.
“This is going to be really good for (Alamo Ranch),” Jerger said.
A market study of the two-mile radius around the site gave SAPL and YMCA direction so that they could tailor their services to the target population.
The study revealed a combination of “people on-the-go” and those who want a sense of place and community in ways they might not have had before, Sheehan said.
The first mutual benefit will be expanded library hours. SAPL is rethinking it’s patron-interface to ensure that it reaches people whose work and family responsibilities limit their use of the system. At the Encino branch, which serves a largely car-dependent community with lots of parents hauling multiple children around, SAPL renovated a restaurant with a drive-thru and kept that feature as a holds pickup service station.
The Potranco branch will take advantage of YMCA’s longer hours to give flexibility to working families. The shared lobby of the YMCA and the library will have after-hours holds lockers where patrons can swipe their library card to access the books they requested. It will also have a “Redbox-like” machine available with a selection of books for those who want to browse a little after hours.
The role of the library and “the Y” is increasingly broad, according to Sheehan and Jerger. More than just a place to find information, the library has become a refuge for those seeking a sense of “place” that can be hard to find in the digital age.
“The library really wants to go where you are,” Sheehan said.
In addition to the classic YMCA features, the Mays Family Branch at Potranco has intentionally created spaces that serve its mission of community health. Not only exercise equipment and summer camps, but spaces designed for the particular needs of the community.
At the Potranco site, programming will also focus on healthy eating. A teaching kitchen will host the CHEF program, and the branch will have a registered dietician on staff. The new facility will be the first to host this programming, but definitely not the last.
“From now on every Y that we build will have a test kitchen,” Jerger said.
The library also will feature healthy cook books and resources for those inspired by what they learn at the Y.
Both institutions will have a strong family focus.
“This community likes to do things as a family unit,” Sheehan said.
Families who want to take on a shared project will find collaborative computer spaces, laptop checkout, a 70-inch Mondopad, and a peaceful outdoor space where they can be “alone together.” A creative space will be equipped with sewing machines, as the market study showed that there was a strong penchant for craftiness in the community.
A teen corner will allow for more independence, and the children’s area will be full of tactile learning experiences. Children, of course, learn through play, and what many people may not realize is how much a little active playtime at the YMCA will benefit them as well. Studies have shown that children and adults learn more effectively after vigorous exercise.
Jerger and Sheehan note that “family” is not a one-size-fits-all demographic. The average family size in their market study was six people.
“Families of that size could look really different,” Jerger said.
While the services at the library are free, YMCA does still have a membership fee, but Jerger is confident that any family who visits will be able to take advantage of both.
“We’ll always bring it to a membership fee that works for each family,” she said.
The branch opens Nov. 5. YMCA hours are Monday – Friday: 5 a.m.-10 p.m.; Saturday: 7 a.m.-8 p.m.; Sunday: 1-6 p.m.