The Rock Island Public Library and Two Rivers YMCA wrote a new chapter in their new shared history Tuesday.
The two vital organizations now share a new home — 2715 30th Street, Rock Island, the former Tri-City Jewish Center of the Quad Cities — one of just three North American sites that include a YMCA and full Library branch under one roof.
The completely remodeled $9.9-million facility (about two-thirds YMCA and one-third library, with a shared lobby) provides additional services to their existing operations.
For the Two Rivers YMCA, their new Rock Island Y branch will provide a variety of services for all ages. At the YMCA, no one is turned away due to the inability to pay for programming or membership.
The YMCA provides access for all through income-based membership. Included with membership will be group exercise classes and a child watch area for children ages 6 weeks to 12 years old.
Instead of a traditional ribbon-cutting ceremony, Tuesday morning packed the lobby area for speeches and a “ribbon-tying,” to symbolize the close partnership that led to the unique expansion of their organizations under one roof.
“While the Two Rivers YMCA already has a long history of youth programming in Rock Island, having a Y facility allows us to expand those services and increase our ability to serve more youth and families,” Jeff Cornelius, the Y’s chief operating officer, said in a Tuesday release.
“That, paired with wellness, chronic disease prevention, nutrition, and other programming, gives people of all ages the chance to be healthy and well,” he said.
The Rock Island YMCA will provide programming the community is already familiar with, serving youth, individuals, families, and seniors. For example, youth will have safe spaces for after-school, where the YMCA promotes character development through youth mentoring. Chronic disease programming is also available to help improve health and quality of life for those facing health challenges.
In 2018, The YMCA began operating the Nourish Food Program that feeds children in the Illinois Quad Cities year-round. In 2022, the Two Rivers YMCA served 200,000 meals to nearly 2,000 children.
The new Rock Island Y will house the Nourish program in a large commercial kitchen that will centralize operations and provide the opportunity to increase the program’s capacity. The Nourish program aims to address food insecurity and reduce hunger in the community.
“What an amazing community partner with the library to do this with,” said Mike Wennekamp, CEO of the Two Rivers YMCA.
The Y has offered programs in Rock Island since the late 1800s, including child care, mentoring, wellness and meals, Wennekamp said.
“How much more can you enhance someone through spirit, mind and body than through the programming of a YMCA and a library?” he said. “It just seemed like a really good fit.”
“Every community is unique and even in the Quad Cities, every community is unique,” Wennekamp said. “This Rock Island YMCA and library is unique, one of the most unique in the country. There are a lot of people who are going to reach their true potential through spirit, mind and body because of your support of this facility.”
The new Y has 50 employees, headed by Jennifer Taylor.
“I’m so thrilled to be here today to see this long dreamed-of project come to life,” said Annika Tunberg, president of the Two Rivers Y board, and vice president of Whitey’s Ice Cream.
“At Whitey’s, we have long held the idea that it’s important to take care of the community that gives so much to us as a business,” she said. “The Quad Cities has supported Whitey’s for nearly 90 years and we believe it is crucial to help projects and organizations, such as the YMCA and the library succeed.”
A nearly 10-year journey
For the Rock Island Public Library, the new branch is the culmination of a nearly 10-year process that began with long-range facility planning in 2014, and to actively partnering with the YMCA since 2018. The new Watts-Midtown Branch complements the library’s existing service network, which includes the main Downtown Library, the Southwest Branch, and Library2Go outreach efforts.
Along with usual branch library offerings – circulating materials for all ages, library card services, item pick up and returns, events and public programming, computer use, public wi-fi, and more – the new branch allows the library to offer expanded services that aren’t available at its other locations, the release said.
These new amenities include a designated teen area, outdoor patio, bookable private study rooms, small group conference room, and a 140-seat auditorium community room.
“During our planning, it became clear from our patrons that having a library branch in the middle of town was paramount to quality of life and the future success of our residents,” library director Angela Campbell said.
“This library branch ensures that every Rock Islander is within three miles of a public library,” she said. “Our partnership has allowed us to offer everything that people wanted in a branch – a large community room, internet connectivity, conference room, study rooms, teen area, and outdoor space – for a fraction of the cost of doing the project alone. Sharing expenses with the Two Rivers YMCA helped make our dream a reality.”
Campbell said in the library’s 150th anniversary year, “what better way to demonstrate the evolution, relevance, resilience and necessity of our service than by opening a new facility?”
“Call it serendipity, chance or fate – I called it a golden opportunity,” she said of the YMCA looking at the building, not needing the whole thing, and seeking to partner.
“Our partnership has allowed us to offer everything that people wanted in a branch – a large community room, internet connectivity, popular materials, a conference room, team area, study rooms, outdoor space – for a fraction of the cost of doing the project alone,” Campbell said.
Sharing building expenses with the Y helped make their dream a reality.
“This place truly is a place for mind, body and spirit,” Campbell said. Dealing with the pandemic, inflation and supply-chain issues drove up the time and costs to complete the project, she noted.
A special name
The new Watts-Midtown Branch is named in honor of the long-term library contributions of late library board member Lorene Evans Watts, and of her son, current library board president Eudell Watts III.
He serves on the Rock Island Public Library Foundation, and has personally raised more than $50,000 to support children’s services through a fund in honor of his mother, a former teacher.
“As a proud user of the Rock Island Public Library since my grade-school days, I am overwhelmed at the thought of this branch actually carrying my family’s name,” Watts said Tuesday.
He paid tribute to his mother, saying she gave back to the city without the thought of accolades.
Watts also praised Campbell’s “knowledge, enthusiasm and commitment to the Rock Island Public Library is beyond words,” he said, also impressed with all library staff.
To date, the facility represents more than $8.5 million of investment in Rock Island, thanks to a joint capital campaign to secure funding by the YMCA and Rock Island Public Library Foundation. Contributions are still being accepted for the project, as a multi-year pledge period was available.
Heidi Huiskamp Collins (campaign tri-chair with Mark Schwiebert and Tom Thoms) said the fundraising was galvanized early on by a $500,000 anonymous gift by a Rock Islander, who pledged $100,000 a year over five years, among the 430 donors to the campaign.
“What an inspiration. A lifelong Rock Island resident, who wanted to stay in the background and felt such a love foe the Rock Island community,” Collins said. “The generosity of folks who stepped was just amazing, really incredible.”
“I have been on a million boards and this was a labor love – I got to tell the story of the Rock Island community and the impact this is gonna make. It was a joy.”
The construction costs were helped by a $500,000 federal ARPA grant., Collins noted. While the project cost $9.9 million, they have raised $8.5 million to date, with multi-year pledges to come, and more donations needed to fill the rest.
“I can’t believe the speed we came together to raise the funds,” she said. “We have this beautiful, gorgeous building, and we’re going to be open to the public.”
What are the hours?
Both organizations will ease into operations in their first week in the new building. For the week of Feb. 8-11, the Watts-Midtown Branch will be open with limited hours and services — 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 8 through Friday, Feb. 10, and from 10 to 2 on Saturday, Feb. 11.
Starting Monday, Feb. 13, the Watts-Midtown Branch will be open full hours, which are 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10 to 6 on Fridays, and 10 to 2 on Saturdays. The library will allow conference room and community room bookings following the library’s official grand opening celebration on Saturday, March 11.
The Rock Island YMCA will open exclusively for Charter Members on Wednesday, Feb. 8 from 4:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. All members are welcome starting Feb. 9. This also is the starting date for the Rock Island YMCA’s regular operating hours of Monday through Friday from 4:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday from 6 a.m. – 5 p.m., and Sunday 7 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Rock Island Y members can also use the 53rd Street YMCA in Moline, Bass Street YMCA (downtown Moline) and the Kewanee YMCA at any time as part of their membership.
For more information, visit the Rock Island Library-YMCA website HERE. See a slide show of the new facility below: