NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — After the West Bay YMCA closed its doors on April 30 and months of work refurbishing and renovating the building, the new Ocean State Community Wellness center opened its doors over the weekend.
The facility opened to the public on Sunday after an initial ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday with local dignitaries from Ocean State Job Lots, Save the West Bay YMCA, the North Kingstown Town Council, North Kingstown Fire Department, North Kingstown Police Department and Regymen Fitness, as well as state representatives Julie Casimiro (D31- North Kingstown/Exeter) and Robert Craven (D32- North Kingstown), who presented the facility with a State House citation commemorating its opening.
For Ocean State Community Wellness Executive Director Kevin Brochu, the facility represents more than just a place to work out.
“This isn’t a gym,” Brochu said. “This is a center for social, mental and physical wellness.”
In 2018, the YMCA of Greater Providence announced they were shutting down the West Bay YMCA due to maintenance and infrastructure issues, which CEO Steven O’Donnell said would cost $2 million to repair. They decided to consolidate the facility with the Kent County YMCA and South County YMCA.
In response, several members voiced their displeasure with the move and banded together to form Save the West Bay YMCA, including Paul Bovenzi, who spoke of the importance of the facility to both himself and his family.
“I’ve spent a lot of time here and, in some small part, my children were raised here and they’ve learned a lot of lessons here,” Bovenzi said. “They learned the value of community and they learned the value of fitness and wellness and then, when it was announced that they were going to close this building, they learned that sometimes things don’t go the way you wanted them to go.”
Many voiced their concerns with the then recently elected Town Council President Greg Mancini.
“We got phone calls right away about the Y closing, so (Town Councilor) Stacey Elliott and I met with (Bovenzi) and others at the Y here, when it was a Y, and we were so impressed by their commitment to this building,” Mancini said.
Mancini and Elliott showed the building to representatives from several organizations across the state, including the Pawtucket YMCA, Westerly YMCA, the Boys & Girls Club of Newport and the Providence Jewish Community Center, but all declined to take over the building.
However, Mancini said, the solution to their problem laid right under their nose as in June, Ocean State Job Lot CEO and principal owner Marc Perlman stepped forward to purchase the building on behalf of the Ocean State Job Lot Charitable Foundation.
“We saw the opportunity of a building being wasted, and we were born in North Kingstown, we’ve been involved in North Kingstown for many years and we just wanted to see if we could put together enough interest to revitalize this facility,” Perlman said.
With the support of people like Bovenzi and the economic means to do so, Perlman and company got to work on rebuilding and repairing the facility, making changes such as removing the old pool and building several new rooms for different exercise activities, as well as open concept offices which, according to Brochu, encourages staff to be out and about, ready to help members with any needs.
For Bovenzi, seeing the new facility left him feeling grateful for all involved and he felt taught his children an even more valuable lesson.
“The final lesson they learned from all of this is that sometimes when you really care and you try and fight, you’ll find people who feel the same way you do and will fight with you and sometimes, you can get what you want if you try hard enough,” Bovenzi said, added he was excited to finally get to work out at the new facility.
Following remarks from the dignitaries, a ribbon cutting was held and those in attendance were invited to tour the new facility themselves. A standard gym with cardio equipment and weights is up front, with five rooms in the back holding a wide variety of classes for members, including spin, yoga, Zumba, barre, Pilates, tai chi and boot camp.
One of the rooms serves as a designated studio for Regymen Fitness, a high-intensity group workout program based on heart rate science developed in Austin, Texas by Edward “EK” Navan, who also attended the facility’s opening, and is the first Regymen studio in the northeast.
“What we do with Regymen is we understand that you need a good workout, but it’s also good to be part of a group, it’s good to be part of a community.,” Navan said. “Sometimes doing one-on-one with it is tough, so what we’re doing with Regymen guys is it’s a workout for every single level. You hear that a lot, but what we mean by that is it’s heart rate-based, so whether you’ve never worked out a day in your life or you’re an active athlete, everything we do back there in that room is gauged on the science of your heart rate.”
The room has a dance club atmosphere, with bright, flashing nights and music pumping through the speakers as instructors guide Regymen members through a variety of workouts during the hour long class.
The new facility seemed to leave a good first impression on many of those who toured it.
“It looks absolutely clean and beautiful, nothing like when I was taking dance classes here when I was 13,” Elliott said. “It looks absolutely wonderful, I think they’ve done a wonderful job for building (Ocean State Community Wellness). It’s hard to imagine that the YMCA was going to abandon this building looking at it now today.”
Though the facility is now open, Brochu said they still have work to do.
“We need to refine programs, we need to refine processes and make sure the staff is engaged and engage the members,” Brochu said, adding that he wants the facility to feel like a community center to help people accomplish their own wellness goals.
Brochu dispelled rumors that the facility was only open to Ocean State Job Lot employees or North Kingstown residents, saying Ocean State Community Wellness is open to all interested in joining.
Ocean State Community Wellness is open 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. on week days, 7 .m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sundays. Basic memberships start at $39.99 a month, with family memberships for four available for $79.99 a month.
Memberships to Regymen Fitness are separate and start at $99.99 a month.