Ozarks Regional YMCA looks to expand child care role after selling downtown Springfield building to Phelps Co. Bank

Published: May. 3, 2023 at 7:01 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - These are changing times for the Ozarks Regional YMCA.

Recently they sold their historic building in downtown Springfield that had been their home for 110 years.

Now they’re looking to help address one of the area’s most pressing problems, a lack of available child care.

The Ward Downtown YMCA has been a fixture in Springfield since 1913 as a civic gathering place for family fun, exercise, lodging, and youth programs. But as more people moved to the suburbs and the building aged, declining membership and the high cost of maintaining it led to the YMCA’s decision to close its doors at the end of March.

That leaves the Pat Jones facility in south Springfield as the only remaining YMCA in Springfield. However, the Ozarks Regional YMCA also has Monett, Hollister, Buffalo, Lebanon, and Cassville locations.

The downtown YMCA building is about to become a bank as the Rolla-based Phelps County Bank bought the Springfield landmark for just over $2 million. The employee-owned bank already has four locations, but they’re all in the Rolla area, and this will be the bank’s first foray outside of its original coverage area.

However, this is not the bank’s first exposure to historic buildings as the Phelps County Bank’s main location in Rolla is on the National Register of Historic Places as the former home of the Edwin Long Hotel, which opened just three days before 8,000 people descended on Rolla for the grand opening of Route 66 in 1931.

“They really have a love for old buildings and rehabilitating old facilities,” said Kathryn Custer, the CEO for the Ozarks Regional YMCA, in expressing her gratitude to the new owners.

And the bank is letting the YMCA use the building for one last time before the bank starts its remodeling.

“They are going to delay that process a little bit to allow us to run our summer camps here,” Custer explained. “So we will be able to serve up to 150 kids a week with ten weeks of camp this summer.”

The YMCA has a long history of youth services. In addition to a host of sports, artwork, and explore programs available, they currently operate before-and-after-school programs at 26 area schools and several different summer camps, including the well-known Camp Wakonda in Ash Grove.

But in addition to relocating their home office and the health and wellness programs they ran at the downtown YMCA, another major project in the works is to expand the availability of something sorely lacking throughout the area.

“We know that affordable child care is a huge need in our communities, and that is something we’re passionate about and that we’re really good at,” Custer pointed out. “So we are in conversations to expand child care programming with a potential early learning center or pre-school. That’s the direction that we’re moving in.”

There are still a lot of details to work out, starting with finding certified childcare workers during a time when the overall workforce is limited and trying to secure funding for the project, which the YMCA hopes to get in partnership with area donors.

So it’s not a done deal yet.

“I will never say anything is a done deal until the ink is dry on the paper,” Custer said. “But it is our desire and intention to do this. We are doing all the things that need to be done, leading to this becoming a reality. We don’t know how soon that will happen or how long it will take, but we are taking steps in that direction. Donors who have the compassion, love, and capacity to really make a difference is who we need to partner with us. It takes a village and a community to solve these issues. We already serve 1,500 children in our before-and-after school program currently. So we already have a school-age services department that is very robust and experienced. Now it’s just finding the right place and right partners.”

As for the new owners of the Springfield downtown YMCA building, we visited with Phelps County Bank Vice-President of Marketing Linda Goff via email about the bank’s purchase and why they’re expanding outside Phelps County for the first time.

Considering this is your first foray into Springfield, what led to the decision to expand?

“Springfield feels like a perfect fit for us. Phelps County Bank is one of the few 100% employee-owned banks in the world. By joining the Springfield community, we’re adding our name to a long list of employee-owned businesses in this region. And just like Rolla, Springfield is “a college town” with a strong economy and job opportunities. We’re excited to put down roots in Greene County and be a part of its future growth.”

What appealed to you about the YMCA building?

“History, location, and familiarity. This building has so many stories to tell, and the YMCA has touched so many lives. We hope to carry on that tradition by helping people buy their first car, or first home, or dream home or start and grow their business. The Downtown location is also a perfect fit for us. We are just a Downtown bank. We believe that Downtowns are the hearts of our communities, and we want to be right in the middle of all of the action. There has been so much hard work, effort, and money invested into revitalizing Downtown Springfield, and we are excited to be a part of the progress. When we look at the building, it just feels like Phelps County Bank and that is probably because our Headquarters in Rolla is a 4-story concrete structure built in 1931 to house the Edwin Long Hotel. We are familiar with these old buildings and know that it takes a significant amount of time and money to maintain and preserve, but these structures will likely outlast most new structures built today.”

What do you want people to know about what the Springfield bank will offer?

“PCB uses technology to assist our employee-owners, not replace them. We expect to fill our new location with capable bankers that are committed to solving your banking needs and serving the community. It is hard to get a screen to volunteer at your local event or shop at your business. Our focus will be on building long-term relationships and adding as many great bankers into our Downtown location as possible. We think that this will be a welcomed approach to Springfield.”

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