QC community leaders met on a sweltering Tuesday to exercise good judgment — supporting a unique $8.3-million project that will exercise both mind and body.

“This collaboration between the YMCA and the library is one of three such partnerships in the United States,” Rock Island Ald. Jenni Swanson (4th Ward), a member of the library board, said, noting San Antonio is one. “This is a unique project that has been quite successful and will be exceptionally successful here in Rock Island.”

Rock Island alderwoman and library board member Jenni Swanson spoke at Tuesday’s ceremony at the former Tri-City Jewish Center, Rock Island (photo by Jonathan Turner).

The former Tri-City Jewish Center building, at 2715 30th St., Rock Island, is being renovated into new branches of the Two Rivers YMCA and Rock Island Public Library.

Tuesday’s event (attended by library and Y staff and board members) was meant to bring awareness of the project back to the public, inspire fundraising to cover its final gap, and to celebrate this project moving forward. 

“Where else can parents take their children for sports activities and participate in a book discussion at the same time in the same building?” Swanson asked. Parents can also work out while their kids do homework in the same building. “Where else would you find the opportunity to combine reading, learning and physical activity for parents and children, again, in the same building?”

“We are grateful for this partnership, grateful for the support of the community,” she said. This will be the new Watts branch of the Rock Island Public Library, named for the Watts family. Eudell Watts is the library board president and his mother was a community leader.

“We just felt that it was an honor to give it to them, to a family that has been so invested and worked with us,” Swanson said, noting the Watts family has been a big financial donor in the new project.

A rendering of the new entrance plaza for the combined facility, to open by the of 2022 at 2715 30th St.

“This day is a phenomenal day that we weren’t sure was gonna happen,” she said later Tuesday. “When we closed the 30/31 branch, people were disappointed that a library branch so close to the center of town was no longer here, but the project with the library and YMCA started to flower in its place. We are just so excited — the fact that you have a library right in the center of Rock Island, where students can play sports; families can come and work out together.”

“It’s a phenomenal experience, especially when you’re coming out of the pandemic, and the loss of literacy with children — the fact that parents can take books out and read them to their children, and help foster that learning and reading proficiency, especially over the summer when schools are closed — Ward 4 in Rock Island, it’s just such a huge benefit.”

A rendering of the new lobby for the Rock Island Library and YMCA. Renovation work by Valley Construction began in early 2022.

Why combine the two?

Two Rivers YMCA CEO Mike Wennekamp and Rock Island Library director Angela Campbell spearheaded the partnership and visited the first facility that tried this — the combo YMCA and public library in San Antonio, Tex., which opened in late 2016.

Rock Island Public Library Foundation executive director Kathy Lelonek, left, library director Angela Campbell and Two Rivers Y CEO Mike Wennekamp at Tuesday’s event, which did not actually include groundbreaking (photo by Jonathan Turner).

“It seemed like a great combination and partnership to put forward in the community,” Swanson said. “It’s something that’s not here, it stands out and makes Rock Island unique.”

“This is phenomenal; Rock Island is really turning the corner as far as growth,” she said. “The fact that we have a building the congregation left, that was sitting vacant and has been transformed in this wonderful project. For the people of Rock Island — this is a real turning point in the growth, the future of the city. I think this going to spur more interest and more investments in the community.”

The new facility is partly meant to replace the closure of the old Rock Island 30/31 library branch, which was sold in late 2019 (photo by Jonathan Turner).

The new facility will not impact the Rock Island Fitness and Activity Center — not having a swimming pool, for one, Swanson said. There are not really overlaps in programs and services between the two, she said.

The new center is expected to open by the end of 2022, barring unforseen issues. The construction began in early 2022 and $7.8 million has been raised in the two-year capital campaign.

YMCA goals for this additional facility:

  • Centralize Nourish community food program to combat food insecurity.
  • Improve health and quality of life through chronic disease programming.
  • Offer safe spaces for after-school programs.
  • Develop character and youth mentoring through positive reinforcement.
  • Provide access for at-risk communities through income-based membership.

Rock Island Public Library goals for this additional branch:

  • Offer services not available at other library locations, including study rooms and a dedicated teen space.
  • Enable exterior reading, gathering, and programming through a reading terrace.
  • Offer social connection and intergenerational programming in an expanded community room.
  • Support job searches with career development and technology resources.
  • Partner with surrounding schools for youth learning, enrichment, and internet connectivity.

“That’s what is so cool about this space — it’s such a unique building,” said Anika Martin, community relations director for the YMCA. “It fit what we were looking for.”

Former Rock Island Mayor Mark Schwiebert, co-chair of the capital campaign, spoke May 10, 2022 (photo by Jonathan Turner).

The three chairs of the capital campaign spoke Tuesday, starting with former Mayor Mark Schwiebert.

“This is a really exciting project,” he said of bringing together healthy bodies and healthy minds at the same site. The Tri-City Jewish Center was in the building since it opened in the early ’80s.

“This project has been a long time coming,” Schwiebert said of planning that began four years ago, amonmg the boards of the library, the library foundation and Two Rivers YMCA. They started fundraising in February 2020, just as the COVID pandemic began.

“We recognized that given the priorities of the community, dealing with the serious problem of the pandemic, we should go into a low-key approach to begin with,” he said, noting the aggressive campaign began again in late 2020.

“It’s going to be a beautiful project; it will be a gathering spot for people of all ages for many years to come,” Schwiebert said.

Campaign co-chair Tom Thoms spoke on May 10, 2022 (photo by Jonathan Turner).

Campaign tri-chair Tom Thoms said over 400 donors have contributed to the project. The general contractor is Valley Construction.

Inflation has taken a bite out of the budget, adding to construction costs, Thoms said. The project addresses core needs of QC children and adults.

“There’s an absolute need for character development, for a safe place for kids to go after school,” he said. “A place for reliable information, career development, and the list goes on. The need for services from these two organizations is stronger now than it was before, in 2020. And this joint facility will help fill those gaps and build a stronger community.

“We need help from the community close the final fundraising gaps and pass the finish line,” Thoms said, noting the campaign needs to raise about $500,000 more, including from some of the existing donors and their five-year commitments, by expanding contributions.

Rock Island native and philanthropist Heidi Huiskamp Collins has mentored at-risk girls in the city for 22 years (photo by Jonathan Turner).

Tri-chair Heidi Huiskamp Collins is a Rock Island native who went to Jordan and Alleman and Augustana.

“I’ve been mentoring at-risk girls in Rock Island for the past 22 years,” she said. “I am so thrilled, being in front of this facility, and thinking of the difference it’s going to make in lives.”

“Seeing construction happen on a project we have all put so much of our time and heart into, is really something,” Huiskamp Collins said. “It’s coming to life in the heart of Rock Island and we’re finally able to see it coming to reality.”

She also praised Anika Martin as “the glue that’s held this campaign together.”

The additional branch will complement the library’s existing Downtown and Southwest locations, and ensure that every Rock Islander is within three miles of a library. For more information on the new facility or to donate, visit www.RIYMCALibrary.org.