It's a rumor that's floated around Beckley since at least 2008: A new, state-of-the-art YMCA of Southern West Virginia facility is in the works.
It's not a done deal, but CEO Jay Rist confirmed reports Tuesday that YMCASWV is as close as it has ever been to providing Beckley with a facility that will offer more space, additional activities for younger children and a state-of-the art YMCA experience for all members.
"It's certainly a possibility," Rist summed up questions on whether the new YMCA home base will happen in Beckley. "This is a real opportunity I didn't think would be possible in my lifetime."
Rist said that the Cline Family Foundation has donated $10 million toward construction of a projected $20 million facility.
Sen. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va., verified reports Tuesday that he is also working with Rist to seek federal funding for the project.
If all the chips fall into place, the new Y home will be built on YMCA property at the Paul Cline Memorial Youth Sports Complex.
"We're close, but we need some things to pan out for us," Rist said. "There's still so much to fall into place. It would have to be something the community really wanted."
Rist is hoping that community enthusiasm will help pull the cart.
"We are trying to see if we can close the gap a little bit, but then we are also going to have to plan for a capital campaign," he added. "Our community will need to get involved.
"There is so much still yet to plan."
Rist spoke candidly about the project, which he said is now in the "exploratory" stage. Involved parties have been working since May to make the new building a reality.
They've sought various funding sources and are investigating options that would incorporate best practices from around the nation into a facility in Beckley.
"We don't have floor plans, but we have an idea, just based off some examples of Y USA, as well as community type facilities that have been built and that would allow us to be a lot more cost-efficient in our operations," Rist reported.
YMCA of Southern West Virginia owns the Paul Cline Memorial Youth Sports Complex, which is named for Beckley businessman and philanthropist Chris Cline's father. Rist explained that the sports complex would be the obvious choice for any new facility.
"There's not really any other spot for us to go," Rist explained. "We own the land. It centralizes our operation a little bit, and that puts us closer to a solid population of students with Beckley Elementary, Beckley-Stratton Middle, Woodrow Wilson High School and even Stratton Elementary."
The complex is also located on land that may qualify for federal funds under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977, a law that created a program for reclaiming abandoned mine lands.
Some federal funds have already been obtained, and Evans verified Tuesday that he is seeking additional monies.
"The YMCA of Southern West Virginia has a long history of serving West Virginians and helping them live healthier, happier lives," Jenkins said in an emailed statement. "As a congressman, I am able to help connect local organizations with federal funding and grant opportunities.
"I'm currently working to help identify and secure funding streams available for the YMCA to move forward with this ambitious project."
For his own part, Rist has a track record of successful fundraising.
Under his leadership, $600,000 was raised to renovate the 40-year-old Main Street facility in 2016 and several upgrades at the soccer complex have been made recently.
He is hopeful and cautiously optimistic that a partnership between Cline, Jenkins and YMCA members and local benefactors will lead to a new facility.
"Chris Cline and his family have been tremendous supporters of, not just the Y, but southern West Virginia in general," Rist said. "He's certainly someone that's a good friend of the Y, and Congressman Jenkins has been pretty awesome as well.
"We can do this capital campagin if our community gets behind it, and we could make this happen."
Rist said that, while he's aiming to erect a state-of-the-art YMCA building to offer more activities to children and youth and better facilities for all members, he has no plans to neglect the current Y home base, which boasts renovations that the Cline family and Beckley community have made happen.
"This is our home. This is where the Y operates out of, for now," he said. "Until we see otherwise, I've got to concentrate on operating this facility."
Meanwhile, Rist is aiming to present plans for a more energy efficient and spacious YMCA to his Board of Directors for approval.
"We need the community's backing on this, and we need our membership base to back us," he said.