HARKER HEIGHTS — Doors to the new $13 million, 54,000-square-foot Armed Services YMCA wellness center opened Friday at 110 Mountain Lion Road. 

Retired Maj. Gen. Lee Baxter, chairman of the national Armed Services YMCA board, said opening a new facility like the wellness center was possible because of its location in Central Texas and proximity to Fort Hood.

The Armed Services YMCA has 13 branches and 21 affiliates from the East to West coasts, Baxter said during Friday’s open house and ribbon-cutting ceremony.

“This will be the flagship location for the Armed Services YMCA in the United States,” he said of the Harker Heights site.

Land was donated by the family of the late Gary W. Purser Sr.

According to city documents, the YMCA entered into a ground lease with Harker Heights on Sept. 9, 2013.

Mayor Rob Robinson stressed the new center is a regional facility.

“Fort Hood is involved,” Robinson said. “We are all part of this. We happen to be in Harker Heights, but as mentioned, the land was donated by people.”

Don Scott, local YMCA board chairman, thanked all who supported the project.

“A lot of people put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into (it),” Scott said.

Fundraising and plans started nine years ago, said Cindy Davis, Armed Services YMCA fundraising chairwoman.

In October 2014, a groundbreaking ceremony was held.

Hill and Wilkinson General Contractors was the construction manager, and Studio 8 Architects oversaw the design.

The facility is now available to anyone, from 6 months old and older, Davis said.

“With 70 percent of our soldiers living off post in this community, there is going to be a tremendous impact on their lives and the quality of health and wellness that we can bring to the community,” she said.

Helping making the dream come true, Davis and Scott said, are community partners Killeen Independent School District and Seton Medical Center-Harker Heights.

KISD students will be able to use the 10-lane lap pool in the Frank W. and Sue Mayborn Foundation Aquatics Center.

“We really began this venture with the Armed Services YMCA as a result of really needing more pool space for our competitive swim teams and our relationship has continued to blossom and forge,” KISD Superintendent John Craft said. Students at Harker Heights Elementary will benefit by learning how to swim, Craft said.

The facility will also serve as an outpatient therapy site for Seton Medical Center-Harker Heights, said Matt Maxfield, the hospital’s CEO.

“I think that when you look at a community and the resources that it brings — having a hospital, having great schools, having something for our kids to do and for our families to share time together — this YMCA really brings it together for all of us,” Maxfield said.

Other amenities include an 88-degree therapy pool for water exercise and swim lessons; men’s, women’s and family locker rooms with showers leading to the pools; an exercise studio for aerobic classes; a generational center for senior citizens and teenagers; a free, child watch area, weight machines, free weights and cardio equipment, three exercise studios, instructional rooms and an indoor walking track, a cafe, instructional kitchen, a sauna, a gym with a full-size basketball court, yoga, spin, Pilates, Zumba and a TRX system.

Checking out the new facility Friday was Killeen resident Eunice Pastoressa.

“I haven’t found a good facility that will take care of my son, so when I heard that this was opening up, this fits great,” Pastoressa said. “My husband’s deployed, and it’ll be a great time to get me to work out and get fit.”

Ron Taylor Freedom Circle

Included in Friday’s ceremonies was the dedication of the Ron Taylor Freedom Circle, located by the flagpole at the front of the new facility.

Taylor was a retired sergeant first class, senior vice president of Fort Hood National Bank and a soldier advocate.

Taylor was serving as the Association of the United States Army’s 4th Region president at the time of his death on Sept. 2.

He was known for repeatedly saying the organization “exists to support the soldiers,” Davis said.

“And that’s the mission of the Armed Service YMCA,” she said. “So that’s what makes this so fitting.”

Taylor’s wife, Evelyn, and daughter, Eboni, were present at the freedom circle’s reveal. Family friend Charlie Green spoke on the family’s behalf.

“Today’s tribute is in the right place, because when you talk about the Armed (Services) YMCA and giving back to the community and Ron Taylor being a part of that, this could not be a bigger tribute,” Green said.

Davis said the circle would not have been possible without the support of Fort Hood National Bank. The goal is to have 50 stars around the circle to honor him, she said.

Contact Rachael Riley at rriley@kdhnews.com or 254-501-7553

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