The crumbling factory on busy Eagle Road in Haverford Township has been leveled.
In its place, construction workers have begun laying the concrete foundations and steel reinforcing bars that will anchor a recreation center officials hope will revitalize the surrounding community.
The YMCA of Philadelphia and Vicinity plans to open its Haverford branch on the former gum-factory site in the fall of 2013. The project is projected to cost $22.5 million.
"It is a major thing in the township," Commissioner Dan Siegel said. "It is going to transform a good portion of the Eagle Road corridor and turn a dilapidated and vacant factory on a toxic-waste site into an extremely productive facility."
The 75,000-square-foot facility will sit on a six-acre parcel at Eagle and Lawrence Roads.
The site was originally home to a knitting mill built in the 1920s. From 1948 until 2003, Swell Bubble Gum operated a factory there.
The project has not been without controversy.
The property, zoned for light industrial use, was owned by the Fenimore family of Montgomery County. The township acquired it in June 2009 through eminent domain for $1.26 million.
The Fenimores have challenged that payment, arguing the land is worth $6 million. A county board of review sided with the family, and the township appealed. The case will be heard in Delaware County Court in the spring of 2013.
"All they are asking is that they are paid what the value of the property is," said David Snyder, a lawyer representing the family.
The YMCA has a 25-year lease for the property and an option for another 25, said John Flynn, the organization's president and chief executive.
"The township wanted us there and we wanted to be there," Flynn said.
The YMCA will include basketball courts and a 12,000-square-foot fitness facility with strength training equipment, treadmills, elliptical machines, and spinning bicycles. A track will circle the core of the building and pass through the lobby.
There will be a child drop-off area for family members using the facilities. Multipurpose rooms will be available for meetings, arts and crafts, after-school groups, and other programming, Flynn said.
The YMCA will have three swimming pools and five locker rooms.
The township scrapped its own plans for a public pool in the Community Recreation and Environmental Center on the site of the shuttered Haverford State Hospital when the YMCA announced that its building would include a pool.
An additional two acres will be leased for parking from Peco, which has an electrical substation on the site.
"We could not have gotten by with just township space," Flynn said.
The facility will have about 250 employees, Flynn said. About 25 will be full-time staff with benefits. The operating budget will be about $6 million.
The YMCA will be built from the ground up, said Siegel. Groundwater contamination from a wood-treatment facility across Eagle Road, where workers once poured diesel fuel and pentachlorophenol (PCP) onto the property, precluded digging. The federal government stepped in, designating the area a Superfund site.
"We got every kind of environmental clearance you can think of," Flynn said.
While residents are generally enthusiastic about the YMCA, they are concerned about traffic, Siegel said. He said traffic around the site was already "bumper to bumper" at times.
The YMCA will pay a projected $500,000 for road improvements that will include a traffic light at Hillcrest Avenue. Improvements are planned for Lawrence and Darby Roads to accommodate traffic.