After nearly 25 years of being a fitness and community center, the Lake Crystal Area Recreation Center (LCARC) is looking to expand its services by expanding its footprint about 2,000 square feet.

The center is in the early stages of planning and fundraising for the addition of an indoor children’s play area that would allow families to pursue health and fitness together. It will be located at the front of the building and easily accessed from the lobby.

“I think the Rec Center is in a position where we’re able to take on a big project like this,” said Executive Director Ryan Yunkers, who has been director for 10 years.

“This community came together to get this facility built in the first place and now we’re looking forward to what’s next.”

An indoor children’s play area has come up for about seven years during annual meetings between Yunkers and Marcie Larson. As family programs manager, Larson oversees the Fit Kids Program as well as senior programming and special events.

The discussion had become a bit of a joke between them, Larson said, until Yunkers realized now might be the time.

“Now we’re seeing that there’s a trend with indoor children’s play spaces, and knowing there’s a community need for things for toddlers to do on up through school age … we’re just going with it,” Larson said.

The new New Ulm Recreation Center is of a similar size and function in the community, and Yunkers said its managers have been providing great guidance for Lake Crystal’s plans. The center’s board of directors is firmly behind it, and approval to pursue expansion has been granted by the City Council.

The city owns the property and building, and the independent non-profit runs it. In addition to gyms and a swimming pool, which can be rented, the LCARC includes meeting rooms that can be used for parties, reunions and events. Madelia Health rents rooms for physical therapy services.

“We want to incorporate a party room, so it’d be an extra space for the community to rent out for birthday parties and meetings,” Larson said. Weekend rentals of current rooms keep the facility hopping all week long.

“And then there’d be a large play structure for kids to climb, run, jump, slide down things,” she continued. “The toddler area, that would be more (fully accessible) ground elements for kids to climb on.”

It is understood that the members of the board will seek in-kind and cash donations to reach the fundraising goal.

“With our mission being to provide a family-oriented facility for all ages to improve their health and well-being, I would say that this expansion fits perfectly into that,” said Board President Rachel Jones.

“The timing is right for us to take the next step in providing amenities to the community that continue to enhance wellness.”

Access to the expansion would be gained through current offices on the right end of the front desk, Yunkers said. The entrance would likely go through Larson’s current office and enter into the open space that will include a room to accommodate about 20 people seated, according to preliminary plans.

No additional staff would be hired, Yunkers said, because space would be designed to allow parents to work out in the same room and keep an eye on their kids.

“It wouldn’t be like a free babysitting area, but the idea is to get family to go and do things together,” he said.

Early cost estimates are about $1.3-$1.5 million. Some community businesses have contributed to have plans completed, and others have been approached for donations of money or services to complete the project. According to Yunkers, when a majority of funds have been raised, a public campaign will begin.

Depending on response, work could begin as early as fall 2023, though he sees summer of 2024 as more realistic.

“I just think that will be an exciting amenity to add to a region that’s already thriving and growing. Lake Crystal and this facility are already a destination,” he said, noting their 1,500 members come from beyond Lake Crystal’s 2,500 residents. Events even draw participants from the Twin Cities.

“This is already a pretty incredible community, and one more thing is the icing on the cake.”

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