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TOLEDO -- Community members will soon be able to swim, work out, take fitness classes, and play basketball and other games at the new Neal Center YMCA.

Blake Fairchild, CEO of the Mattoon Area Family YMCA, said the goal is to complete the construction work at this new branch and open it sometime in January. This facility is being readied for its debut as Tony Sparks prepares to retire on Jan. 15 from his roles as executive director/project manager for the Neal Center and as senior adviser for the Mattoon Y.

"Everything we did in Mattoon we tried to do as well as, if not better, here," Sparks said of constructing the 33,000-square-foot Toledo facility.

The Neal Center is located on the east side of the Cumberland County courthouse square and has a smaller footprint than the Mattoon facility. The Toledo facility has been designed to fit within the space available by having two stories, whereas the Mattoon YMCA has one.

Fairchild estimated that construction of the Neal Center is 98 percent completed, with most of the remaining work being focused on getting the elevator in service. The elevator, and staircases, will provide access to a second floor that houses a wellness center with cardio and weight machines, two fitness center classrooms, and a walking track.

The walking track, where 13 laps equal one mile, overlooks a gymnasium with floor space equivalent to one-and-a-half basketball courts. Sparks said this gym can be divided by a curtain to create separate spaces for basketball, volleyball, pickleball and other games.

A 56-by-24 indoor swimming pool fills the southwest corner of the Neal Center. Sparks said Neal Tire & Auto Service owner the late Burnham Neal, whose estate helped make the new facility possible, felt strongly that his hometown of Toledo should have a pool.

"We are delighted to have this pool, and it should serve the community well," Sparks said.

The Neal Center offers locker rooms with private changing spaces. Some of the facility's other amenities include a child watch room and a community meeting room by the lobby, as well as kitchen with a serving window near the pool.

Fairchild said more than 400 residents so far from throughout Cumberland County and from neighboring towns have signed up to be members of the Neal Center. The Mattoon YMCA also has a branch at Sarah Bush Lincoln’s Center for Healthy Living. Members of one of these facilities can also use the other two.

Sparks said the Neal Foundation and the Neal Center Boards of Directors, following Burham Neal's lead, have worked closely to help create the Toledo YMCA. He added that the capital campaign has nearly reached its goal of raising $1 million for this project with the help of community support.

As he prepares to retire, Sparks said he is thankful for the Mattoon YMCA being able to expand its services to include the Neal Center and the Center for Healthy Living. Sparks, who started working with the Y in 2009 as CEO, said the Mattoon and Toledo facilities have dynamic staff and board members in place to serve their communities.

"(Sparks) is still going to be very much a friend of the Y," Fairchild said, adding that he looks forward to continue working with Sparks in the community. "I thank him for everything he has done."

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Contact Rob Stroud at (217) 238-6861. Follow him on Twitter: @RobStroud

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