The Benjamin Barnes YMCA, a staple of the West Tuscaloosa community since 1961, is undergoing a series of renovations to the exterior of the facility and launching a new summer soccer program, thanks to donations from a generous benefactor.

In January, the Tuscaloosa City Council unanimously voted to purchase both the Barnes and Downtown YMCA Branches for $1.7 million, receiving the facilities of their debt and allowing them to begin renovations.

"We're thankful to the entire City Council for taking the debt off our backs so we can reinvest in this facility," said Jeff Knox, CEO for the YMCA of Tuscaloosa. "We're very enthusiastic to be moving in this direction."

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Knox told The Thread that the national YMCA of the USA has invested a significant amount of money into various struggling facilities across the country whose primary function is child care and child development.

In the last 8 months, the Barnes facility has taken those funds and infused them into a new computer lab, gym floor, general equipment, new lighting, and renovations for its baseball field.

However, Tuscaloosa resident Susan Austin Warner felt that the true next step in revitalizing the facility was enhancing its curb appeal.

"I saw an opportunity to lift up a staple of the West Tuscaloosa community," Warner said.

Warner reached out to the Y and committed to dedicating her own money to giving the facility a new paint job and launching a new summer soccer program.

"I recognized there was a need for youth soccer in Tuscaloosa, specifically this part of town, and we need to take care when launching an exciting new program like soccer," Warner said. "There's great athletic facilities here at Barnes, but people won't know if they are just looking at the outside. We want everyone to feel welcome."

Warner expressed all this to José Jimenez, owner of Jimenez Professional House Painting LLC, with whom she had worked in the past. Together, they've been working this week to touch up the outside of the facility to prepare for the summer activities.

This is a passion project for Jimenez, who has coached soccer with Bryant High School's girl's team. He offered to lend his skills and expertise to help kick off this new program in whatever ways he can.

This youth soccer camp kicks off July 12 and runs through July 16. More information on that program is soon to follow.

 

Knox said the Y may eventually build a new facility in Tuscaloosa, but said that conversation was years away, and that the importance of the Barnes branch could not be overstated.

"The Barnes Branch will always be needed in the community, maybe we can repurpose this facility," Knox said. "There's a tremendous opportunity for other services - youth sports, adult education, job training - at this facility, even if we have a new facility in the future for more traditional YMCA activities."

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