Already a subscriber? Log in
- Unparalleled business coverage of the Iowa City / Cedar Rapids corridor.
- Immediate access to subscriber-only content on our website.
- 52 issues per year delivered digitally, in print or both.
- Support locally owned and operated journalism.
The joint Two Rivers YMCA and Rock Island Public Library could open in late November in the former Tri-City Jewish Center via a unique partnership the agencies formed to better serve the needs of the community. Renovation of the former Rock Island center at 2715 30th St. began in March but the project was years in the making. Driving past the site one might not realize how large this building actually is. The 42,828-square-foot building sits on a 4.49 acre lot. The YMCA will occupy 29,676 square feet, the library will have 9,667 square feet, and the two organizations will share 3,509 square-feet, including the main lobby and a commons area. “It’s such a unique building, there’s a gymnasium, a kitchen, so many things that traditional business wouldn’t use, but us together, it was a perfect fit,” said Anika Martin, community relations director for the YMCA. The project is on track for the late November completion, but supply chain issues will determine if it meets that deadline, the YMCA said. The Moline-based YMCA hired Valley Construction as the general contractor along with the engineering firm IMEG and Studio 483 Architects.
New library nameThe new Rock Island library branch will be known as the Watts-Midtown Public Library. The new name, announced in June, honors the late Lorene Evans Watts, and her son, Eudell Watts III, both longtime library supporters. As of right now, the official name of the YMCA will be the Rock Island YMCA, which will be a branch of Two Rivers YMCA. However, leaders said there still could an opportunity for a donor to name the branch. This collaboration between the YMCA and library is only the third of its kind throughout the country. As part of their research, they reached out to a similar collaboration in San Antonio, Texas, and they had nothing but good things to say about the partnership. After completion of what will be Rock Island’s third library branch, every resident will be within three miles of a library. When this library opens, all of the other branches will remain open, including the main downtown library and Southwest Branch at 9010 Ridgeroad Road. This marks Two Rivers YMCA’s first facility in Rock Island. It will be served by public transportation and is within walking distance from six schools.
What’s insideThere will be one public entrance shared between the YMCA and library. Upon entry guests will see a reception desk where they can show their YMCA membership and continue to the Y or enter the library section. There is 3,600 square feet being added to the existing building for a full walking/running track. Conveniently, everything except for the basketball courts will be on the same floor. In the library, children and teens will have designated spaces to gather. For parents using the Y, a child watch area will be available. Because the Y is membership-supported, unlike the library, its side of the building is not open to the general public. But it will offer 1,000 income-based scholarships for the Rock Island branch so no one will be turned away for the inability to pay. In 2019, the YMCA served around 220,000 meals through its Nourish program. However, leaders had to turn down two more feeding programs that served 30,000 more meals each due to a lack of capacity. The program now plans to increase the number of meals served to 300,000 with its new 2,146-square-foot kitchen. During construction, the program continues to work out of two existing kitchens. After the move, they will work out of one top-notch kitchen. Increased efficiency will come as a result of the new location with the meals being picked up from the centralized spot. Two Rivers YMCA CEO Mike Wennekamp said “Our goal down the road is to use those smaller kitchens as teaching kitchens. Where we can actually teach kids how to prepare their own meals and build out more of an educational component in the Nourish program.” Renovations will create a room for chronic disease education programs including LIVESTRONG, HOPE4Life, Body In Motion, Reclaim, Healthy Weight & Lifestyle Balance. LIVESTRONG program is for adult cancer survivors who want to improve their quality of life. Body In Motion is a class for all ages with Parkinson’s or other diseases that affect balance. Since the two organizations will be in the same building, the library is able to offer unique services special to this location. New book lockers located in a shared lobby will allow patrons to pick up their books after the library has closed but during the Y’s operating hours. “Libraries exist for the people they serve,” Rock Island Public Library Director Angela Campbell said. For example, they can assist people in getting jobs through a partnership with the Blackhawk Outreach Center or with a JobNow database which offers resume development help and career coaching, she added. The library’s space also will include an outside reading garden and meeting rooms available for small groups of up to four people.
Project’s historyLisa Lockheart, the library’s publicity and outreach liaison, said “The current project marks the culmination of a long process that began with the library’s November 2015 Master Plan Study, a comprehensive and long-term review of library space needs.” The library reviewed a variety of alternatives for enlarging and improving library spaces, including new construction along the 30th Street corridor, she said. “It hadn’t found suitable space until being approached by representatives of the Tri-City Jewish Center in 2018.” She said a series of feasibility studies made it apparent the building was too large for the library alone. “In a moment of serendipity, the library learned that Two Rivers YMCA was also looking to expand into Rock Island. In 2019, the two organizations began work on a campaign to acquire and renovate the former Tri-City Jewish Center, now owned by the YMCA,” Ms. Lockheart said. This partnership was a great fit because “years ago the YMCA did a market study and it was really shown there was a need for a YMCA in the neighborhood area,” added the Y’s Ms. Martin. Even though there was a need for a YMCA “there wasn’t really anywhere to build, Rock Island is very landlocked.” Built in 1981, the Tri-City Jewish Center was mainly used as a worship and school facility for Congregation Beth Israel as well as a community center that over the years hosted many events. The building boasted a large sanctuary that could seat approximately 200 for religious services, a school wing with classrooms for Hebrew school, and a gym. “Over the years, the Jewish population in the community had declined to the point the congregation no longer needed such a large building,” Ryan Colgan, office administrator of the Congregation Beth Israel, said in an email to QCBJ. In 2021, Congregation Beth Israel moved across the river and now shares a building and rabbi with Temple Emanuel, and the Jewish Federation in Davenport. “The consensus was that even though the building was special, it’s the people in the community that make the congregation what it is today,” Mr. Colgan said.
Fundraising effortsFundraising for the $9.9 million joint project began in the spring of 2020, just before COVID-19. The initial projected cost was $7.3 million but rose due to inflation and supply chain issues. The fundraising team had to quickly adapt to their new environment. Without traditional in-person fundraising, the joint team quickly pivoted to zoom fundraising, digital materials, and more, officials said. Temporarily fundraising efforts were stopped in 2020 and resumed that fall. During the pandemic, the team worked on submitting grants and planning for the project. Seventy-five volunteers from teens to adults helped contribute to the fundraising efforts. The team raised $7.9 million from more than 400 donations. It still is looking to raise an additional $1.5 million due to increased costs.
Reading into a nameOn what is the 150th anniversary of the Rock Island Public Library, it is preparing for a new chapter with a new branch that will officially be named the Watts-Midtown Branch. The name honors the late Lorene Evans Watts, who was an educator and devoted library volunteer during her lifetime, and her son, Eudell Watts III, who currently leads the library’s board. Ms. Watts was married to Eudell Watts Jr. She served from 1968 through late 1973, including as board secretary, and vice president during the library’s 1972-1973 centennial year. She also served on the personnel, books and periodicals, finance, and Operation Read committees. Her son Eudell later was appointed to the library board in October 2003. He also represents the library on the Rock Island Public Library Foundation Board of Directors. “Mom always found a way to help people, and that rubbed off on us and on Dad. It really rubbed off on everybody. They went about it in a quiet way,” her daughter Marie (Watts) Grigsby said.
At a glanceWHAT: Rock Island’s Watts-Midtown Library & Rock Island YMCA new facility. PROJECT: Two Rivers YMCA and Rock Island Public Library are repurposing the former Tri-City Jewish Center into a shared space for their facilities. WHERE: 2715 30th St., Rock Island COST: $9.9 million BUILDING DETAILS:
- Lot size: 4.49 acres.
- Total building square footage: 42,828.
- YMCA: 29,676 square feet.
- Library: 9,667 square feet.
- Shared common space: 3,509 square feet.
- General contractor: Valley Construction, Rock Island.
- Engineering firm: IMEG, Quad Cities.
- Architect: Studio 483 Architects, Rock Island.