Whitehall residents must wait at least two years to enjoy the YMCA branch at Whitehall Community Park -- but those who attended last week's announcement say it will be worth it.

"Something like this has been needed for a long time," said 14-year Whitehall resident Carolyn Ingold.

Nancy Stickel, who's lived in Whitehall for 40 years, said she's excited about the new development.

"This is great; the kids here need (more) things to do. (Whitehall Community Park) is so underused," she said.

"It will be perfect for my 5-year-old granddaughter."

The YMCA of Central Ohio will open a branch at Whitehall Community Park, 402 N. Hamilton Road, after Whitehall invests about $5.5 million to renovate the existing activities building and construct an open-air gymnasium.

Last year, the city and the YMCA collaborated on a survey of residents about desired recreational opportunities and programming.

The new branch, to be called Community Park YMCA, will represent a new model that includes social programming in addition to athletics and recreational activities, Whitehall Mayor Kim Maggard said.

Stephen Ives, president and CEO of the YMCA of Central Ohio, said he is "inspired" by the leadership of Maggard and Whitehall Parks and Recreation Director Shannon Sorrell, and that the Community Park YMCA "will be a symbol of when we lock arms, work together and create a space where everyone can be 'us,' remarkable things will happen."

Ives spoke at an event Oct. 10 at the park to help announce the YMCA to the public.

He said the world has witnessed how tragedies can unite, but the new Y "is a chance to see (unity) happen where there is hope and opportunity."

In addition to the athletics programming typically associated with a YMCA branch, Whitehall's branch is expected to include classes based on science, math and engineering, along with recreational classes such as cooking.

The Community Park YMCA will not include a pool, Sorrell said, but members can visit other YMCA branches with pools.

Sorrell said under optimal conditions, the Community Park YMCA would open in the second half of 2019.

Once the facility is completed, the city and the YMCA will enter into a lease agreement, Maggard said.

The YMCA will lease the activities building, provide programming and staff and be responsible for the maintenance of the facility, she said.

Whitehall's staff will focus on parks and nature programming at the rest of Community Park and the city's other parks, Maggard said.