Brotherly love;
New YMCA ground-breaking a family affair

The Houston Chronicle
CAROL E. VAUGHN, Houston Chronicle correspondent
November 01, 2001, Thursday 2 STAR EDITION

Three brothers who grew up in Southside Place returned to their childhood home last week to honor their parents at the ground-breaking for a new local YMCA.

Named after Rosalie and Weldon Weekley, the facility honors the parents of benefactors Bob, Dick and David Weekley. The brothers donated $ 1 million for the facility, which will replace the aging Southwest YMCA.

"My two brothers and I grew up at Southside Place and went to the Southwest YMCA as a kid," said Dick Weekley, chairman of the Metropolitan YMCA. "Basically it was a contribution to honor our parents."

Combined with YMCA capital expansion program dollars and the sale of the existing Southwest YMCA facility off Bellaire, the Weekley brothers' $ 1 million donation helps fund the construction, which is expected to be completed in another year, said spokeswoman Heidi Brasher.

"We are proud because our boys did it," Weldon Weekley said.

The start of construction last week of the new $ 3.5 million Weekley Family YMCA is part of a major effort to welcome families back to the previously crime-laden Stella Link community.

Located on 4.7 acres off Stella Link and Bluebonnet, the new YMCA is expected to breath life into the Braeswood area with a two-story, 28,000-square-foot facility featuring an outdoor pool and ample fields for outdoor competitive sports.

The YMCA project is part of a master plan by the Stella Link Redevelopment Association, formed in 1989 to bring a 40-acre Campus Park to the area bordered by Mark Twain Elementary and Pershing Middle School.

Dick Weekley commended the tenacity of five original SLRA board members who developed the master plan.

David Marks, Jim Ainsworth, Bob Barnes, Russ Schulze and Peter Taaffe began brainstorming the neighborhood's reform more than a decade ago, raising money to purchase aging apartment complexes used for drug trafficking.

"We decided to contribute the money to fund this site in order to complete the project so many people had worked on for so many years," Dick Weekley told a crowd of about 100 attendees who watched the key players shovel the ceremonial dirt.

In what Weekley calls a fast-track mode, construction on the facility will start immediately, with its opening set for 2002. The architect is Curry Boudreaux. SpawMaxwell is the general contractor.

The new YMCA will feature a pool, two aerobics areas, cardiovascular/weight room, a gym, locker rooms and office space, multipurpose spaces and outdoor fields. To accommodate concerns from local residents about traffic issues, 205 parking spaces are provided near the facility.

After acquiring the 40 acres, the SLRA gave it to various nonprofit groups for building facilities, including the YMCA, Sheltering Arms Senior Services, Helen's Park and the Houston Public Library.

Green space for adjoining sports fields remains in the association's ownership, said Harriet Latimer, development coordinator for the association. The Houston Independent School District and Tri-Sports Association are partners in the shared program services.

"We raised money from foundations, corporations and individuals," Latimer said. "Our goal was to donate much of the land to nonprofit organizations."

The association has purchased another 75 acres on what is called the far South Campus, a stretch of land on Stella Link outside Loop 610. The additional green space is planned for use by several sporting groups.

Tenants on the larger tract include the Braes Bayou Little League, Southwest YMCA, West University Little League, West University Soccer Club and the West University Softball Association.

The Emery-Weiner Middle and High School, a private Jewish school, will be built on 12 acres purchased from the association.

The green space behind the YMCA will be called the John P. McGovern Campus Park, said Russ Schulze, president of the SLRA. Three playing fields, restrooms, trails and landscaping are planned for the acreage.

Helen's Park, a new three-acre park located adjacent to the YMCA facility, is a perpetuity created from the Myron Williams Trust. It features a multicolored fountain, streams, benches and walking trail.

Capital improvements on both the main and south campuses total more than $ 65 million. It will benefit more than 500,000 residents of southwest Houston, as well as others, said SLRA officials.

© Copyright 2001 The Houston Chronicle Publishing Company