SWAC transitions to ‘Litehouse YMCA’ site

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SANDPOINT — The former Sandpoint West Athletic Club is now a branch of the YMCA of the Inland Northwest, and on Wednesday, YMCA officials announced the Sandpoint branch has been named after a local company.

The facility is now “Litehouse YMCA,” prompted by a “generous” contribution of an undisclosed amount from Litehouse Foods, Inc., according to a statement from YMCA officials. The partnership will ultimately establish enhanced youth development, healthy living and social responsibility programs for the area.

“A big part of Litehouse’s decision to partner with the YMCA is their alignment with our guiding principles,” Kelly Prior, interim president and CFO of Litehouse, said in the statement. “We are extremely excited to watch the YMCA’s investment in our children and each of our neighbors take shape in continuing to build a strong and connected community.”

The guiding principles have been an important part of the business since the company was founded in 1963, according to the Litehouse website, and include faith, integrity, commitment to excellence, accountability and stewardship.

“The founders of Litehouse believed in stewardship as a fundamental pillar of the company,” Prior said in an email to the Daily Bee. “This partnership provides us the opportunity to be good stewards of the community in which we operate, and support a cause that makes our community a better place for all of us to live ... It’s an honor to have our name tied to an organization committed to driving positive change in the community.”

Through the partnership, Prior said, Litehouse has committed to provide support to the YMCA through 2023.

YMCA took over SWAC on Saturday after announcing the acquisition early last month. YMCA of the Inland Northwest is based in Spokane with Sandpoint as their fifth branch, joining the North, Valley, Central and South Hill locations of Spokane.

“This was not a project we expected to happen,” John Ehrbar, chief operating officer for the YMCA of the Inland Northwest, told the Daily Bee, adding that he had been meeting with the local YMCA Sandpoint advisory board since 2014 to talk about options of bringing a YMCA to Sandpoint.

Ehrbar said the opportunity to move into the facility presented itself less than a year ago when he first met the owners of SWAC, Don and Sue Helander. Things got moving “pretty quickly” after that, he said, and he met with the leadership at Litehouse soon after. The leadership outlined their values, with an emphasis on organizations that focus on education, community and hunger prevention, he said, all three of which are programs the YMCA focuses on as well.

“We had a lot of shared values and I think that is what got the conversation going,” Ehrbar said. “We think it will be a good partnership for the future ... No new formal programs have been developed, but we are certainly looking forward to continuing to work with Litehouse and other businesses in the area to create programs that are going to make a difference specifically for Sandpoint, for North Idaho.”

Ehrbar detailed some of the changes members can expect to see in the transition from SWAC, including pricing. YMCA uses a sliding scale, with a range of fees depending on the type of membership and household income. Also, while SWAC had an individual rate with an additional fee for each member of the family, YMCA has more of a “bundle” rate for families, Ehrbar said. The highest rate, he said, is $97 for two adults with any number of dependents, which could be reduced to as low as $59 depending on household income.

“Or if there are some really extreme circumstances, we can work with people on an individual basis also,” Ehrbar said. “... Our whole goal is try to make it as affordable as possible.”

To accomplish that goal, YMCA does fundraising on annual basis, Ehrbar said, using community support to help provide membership to those who can’t afford it. He said YMCA will be embarking on a $4 million capital campaign to ensure sustainability in Sandpoint, as well as look at future expansion needs in the facility, which are “to be determined” based on local feedback.

Those who had a SWAC membership as of Nov. 30 are locked in at their current rate, as long as they do not go on hold, cancel, or have any lapse in membership, he said. However, if someone falls into a category that would put them at a lower rate, they can make that choice, though they would be subject to any annual price increases in membership fees, Ehrbar said. Current members who change to a lower rate will not be charged another registration fee, he added.

“We will walk people through the options and tell them the pros and cons of each option,” Ehrbar said.

There will not be any additional fitness class fees for current members, though there will be a reservation system in place on the website to ensure there is sufficient room in the class for participants. Some skills classes, such as swimming lessons or basketball classes may have additional fees, as will personal training, he said.

Non-members who want to use the facility will be charged an all-day rate of $20.

“We want to be able to provide value to people who are regular members,” Ehrbar said. “We do that to try to create value, but also to limit the amount of people so that the members aren’t feeling overcrowded by people who are just popping in.”

The facility currently has about 3,000 members.

Finally, for those who plan on using the pool or showers, don’t forget to bring a towel as Ehrbar said they are not continuing that service previously provided by SWAC.

Information: ymcaspokane.org

Mary Malone can be reached by email at mmalone@bonnercountydailybee.com and follow her on Twitter @MaryDailyBee.

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