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June 2024

Many of you are aware that the city of Birmingham has purchased the YMCA building at 400 East Lincoln Street to be converted to the new home of Next, the area’s 50-plus community center, as well as providing space for community programs and events.

But many of you may not know how this came to be.

Next, a 501(c)3, has been serving the community for almost 50 years, and for the past 25 years, we have been operating out of a Birmingham Public School building, The Midvale Center. Next utilizes just 10,000 square feet of the building, including sharing the gym with the Early Childhood Center.

In 2014, Next membership was under 1,000 residents with a typical weekly attendance of around 350 people visiting the center. In 2015, we changed our name to Next, attracting a broader membership. We introduced a robust calendar of activities to include many more enrichment activities and created exceptional lifelong learning opportunities. With those and many more enhancements, Next has become a warm and welcoming center where residents want to be and feel a sense of belonging.

Today, Next serves over 2,500 area residents, with more than 1,500 weekly visits to the center, attending more than 250 monthly programs. What has not changed is Next’s operating space, still five rooms and a shared gym at 10,000 square feet, which presents quite a challenge.

Next has been very creative and innovative with the current space, but Next services and offerings are very compromised with wait lists, cancelled sessions due to room shortages, and classes not offered simply because of the limited space available.

With the over-50 population growing almost exponentially, far outpacing other cohorts, Next has been searching for solutions for quite some time. Over the past ten years, Next diligently explored the idea of signing a long-term lease (or purchase) with Birmingham Public Schools that would allow Next to modify the Midvale building to better suit a growing membership. We went back and forth with several superintendents and remained hopeful that we would be allowed to make Midvale a permanent home for Next. But as of late, the schools solidified their own strategic plan that includes expanding their preschool. It was clear that Next was not going to be able to continue to grow at Midvale.

Most municipalities have a senior services department. Birmingham is unique and benefits from partnering with Next as a 501(c)3. Next has a long history of being extremely effective, well-run and economically a better business model because of the cost savings Next provides the city, while being uniquely focused on the needs of older residents.

In early 2023, the Birmingham City Commission charged former city manager Tom Markus to work with Next to explore other options for a future facility. Together we looked into what little available land there was in Birmingham, private property, faith-based organizations, and service organizations, all to no avail.

This is the same time we met with the YMCA regional and local leadership to discuss a shared space. Our timing was good. The CEO of the Southeast Michigan YMCA was looking to consolidate operations by selling the Birmingham building and focus their attention on a new state-of-the-art building in Royal Oak.

The city purchased the YMCA building last July with a written agreement in place that it would become a new home for Next, allowing Next to occupy 30,000 square feet of the 40,000 square foot building. Some of that will be shared space and the remainder could be space for potential community-based partners. 

To that end, the city began to plan on how best to handle this older building as well as finance the project. Next committed $500,000 to the facility as well as securing a $250,000 grant from Oakland County to support the initial work.

In November of 2023, Birmingham residents overwhelmingly voted to approve a three-year, .33 mill senior millage that would be the seed money to begin the project.

Next is very excited. After a long decade of an uncertain future, there finally is a defined path to a better suited home that will meet the needs of our growing older population. Next has been in an undersized facility for far too long, and has compromised its offerings and services to a highly respected segment of the population that deserves much better.

The city commission understands the need to support our older residents and provide a safe place to gather, connect and thrive. A permanent home for Next was identified as one of the commission’s top three priorities at the beginning of their most recent term.

What will the new facility look like? That is being earnestly studied right now. A well designed building will be utilized by Next as well as the community with multipurpose rooms, meeting spaces, a large gym that can accommodate several indoor pickleball courts, among other uses, a health and wellness center, extended hours and outdoor spaces that will serve the community well into the future.

The feasibility study is currently being conducted by NORR LLC., to understand the true condition of the building. What can be salvaged, what should be replaced, is it a renovation or a rebuild? And how to design an open, welcoming and accessible space, keeping in mind the costs associated with various build out options. All this needs to be considered in a timeline of just a few years. Currently, Next has a memo of understanding with the Birmingham Public Schools allowing the use of Midvale until June 2026.

The city leadership has put in place safeguards to be sure the project moves along smoothly, avoiding trip wires along the way. The city commission is getting regular updates and has installed a nine-person Ad Hoc Committee made up of subject matter experts and two city commissioners. One of the first priorities of the committee was to engage an owner’s representative that will help the city navigate the complexities of the project.

The commissioners, city staff, the Ad Hoc Committee and the owners representative will all work together to transparently oversee the architects and contractors, develop a proposed budget, and come back to the city commission with possible future options for the facility. Through this process, strategic objectives can be realized while considering the evolving needs of the community, creating a space that is inclusive, impactful and sustainable.

To design a building that meets the needs of a growing senior population and the community at large is an exciting opportunity for the city. There is so much potential in a thoughtfully planned building that can offer the community a gathering space to connect to one another, take part in enrichment and lifelong learning opportunities, stay healthy with a variety of fitness classes and wellness presentations, explore the arts, participate in discussion groups and enjoy the camaraderie of neighbors. And most importantly, be one more reason why Birmingham is a great place to grow up and grow old.

Cris Braun is Executive Director of Birmingham Next


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