It took nearly seven years of battling environmental and legal restricitons, but the Northwest YMCA/Pima County Community Center is finally a reality.

The 32,000 square-foot facility - a joint venture between the YMCA, Pima County and Pima Community College - was packed with well-wishers Dec. 4 during the grand opening of the Y's sixth Tucson-area branch. About 250 people attended the 10 a.m. ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Northwest's first community center.

"It's been a long time coming," said Gary Darling, chairman of the Northwest YMCA Board. "We've been working on getting something up here for many, many years and this is a tribute to all the people here today, the citizens of Pima County who have made this complex a reality."

County Supervisor Sharon Bronson said the county has leased the land to the YMCA for $1 annually and was impressed the center only took a year to build.

"I didn't think government could work this fast," she joked.

Tucson YMCA has run programs in the Northwest for nearly 20 years, according to Betsy Warner, YMCA communications director, but because there was no actual building in which to house classes and activities, those things were held at various temporary sites, including, most recently, the Foothills Mall.

The community center, which includes an extensive cardiovascular wellness room, aerobic studio and gymnasium, is just one part of the 35-acre, $8 million site located at the corner of Shannon and Magee roads. The other components of the YMCA/ Pima County site are an aquatics center to the south of the center, two baseball diamonds and a soccer field to the east, and arts and crafts center to the north, said Executive Director Bill Markell.

There is a babysitting room in the center, allowing parents to work out while their children are cared for, and volunteer opportunities for people of all ages, said Darling. Center hours are 5:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. on Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday.

The project cost $8 million, $2 million of which came from YMCA benefactors. Pima Community College paid approximately $800,000, Markell said, because they will be utilizing the center for physical education and art classes, and the remaining money came from a 1997 $33 million Pima County bond issue, said Bronson.

Three hundred people joined the center as charter members during its construction year and since opening to the public on Nov. 24, more than 1,500 people have joined, said Kelly Jo Volin, Northwest YMCA membership director.

The Northwest YMCA/Pima County Community Center is part of 90-acre PCC Education Park, said Dr. Angela Zerdavis, president of the soon-to-be-completed Northwest Campus of Pima Community College. The park will include PCC's sixth campus - expected to open in fall 2003 - and a satellite campus for the University of Arizona.

As part of its joint venture with the YMCA, PCC will hold 32 classes at the YMCA/Pima County Community Center in January and when its Northwest campus opens, Zerdavis said the YMCA aquatic center will allow the college to offer a physical therapy assistants degree program.

The original site for a Northwest YMCA was near Arthur Pack Park, said Markell, but concerns about the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl made the group look elsewhere.

The Sam Nanini family had donated the Shannon-Magee land 20 years ago to Pima County for use as a botanical garden "but county studies showed a garden here wouldn't work because of air flow and other issues," Warner said.

The county decided to lease the land to PCC in 1998 and Steve Nanini sued for return of the land to his family.

The Pima County Superior Court and the state Court of Appeals ruled that there was no restriction on the deed when the Naninis gave it to the county. Nanini then appealed to the state Supreme Court which also ruled in the county's favor, said Warner.

"We continued to draft plans for our center during the time the case was in court, so when the court ruled in our favor we were able to begin construction right away last October," she said.

The center was built by Concord Construction Co. and Dino Sakellar was the architect, said Markell.

Membership fees for the Northwest YMCA are $55 a month for families, $37 a month for an individual membership and $20 a month for youth ages 8 through 21. For more information or to join YMCA, call 229-3570.

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