Columbia’s former YMCA building has an afterlife with First Baptist

YMCA being renovated by First Baptist Church in downtown Columbia

The building has become a center for middle, high school and college students
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The building has become a center for middle, high school and college students

Long before First Baptist Church bought downtown Columbia’s YMCA building in 2015, Wendell Estep says there was a connection between his church and the Sumter Street building.

“When this building was dedicated, Woodrow Wilson came and participated,” Estep, First Baptist’s pastor, said Friday inside the renovated building. “But the weather wasn’t good, so they held the ceremony in our historic chapel.”

The building — which First Baptist bought and renovated for $6 million — has shared a city block with the church’s campus in downtown Columbia for more than 100 years.

On Sunday, that proximity will become an official connection when Estep formally cuts the ribbon on First Baptist’s new student ministries center. The center will host meeting and study spaces for students from middle school through college.

Renovations to the former YMCA building, built in 1911, took just about a year to complete – partly because Davis Architecture and contractors Fitts and Goodwin left a lot of the former YMCA’s athletic features in place.

Walk outside the new, modern worship auditorium, and you’ll tread on the floorboards of the Y’s basketball court. The church left up a hoop and half-court to one side, separated from worshipers by a ceiling-high, chain-link fence.

“It’s a tip of the hat to the building’s history, and it gives the students some recreation,” said student pastor Philip Turner. “We were scratching our heads what to do with it, but we were able to put it to good use.”

Other parts of the building have been repurposed.

The church removed the walls between three racquetball courts to create a theater space with raised seating and the ability to project movies onto the back racquetball wall.

Elsewhere, a weight room was transformed into a game room, with dumbbells replaced by a table tennis table and a Wii gaming system. The Y’s locker rooms have been converted into smaller meeting spaces.

“Some of them still have the soap holders in them,” said Scott Johnson, who ministers to middle school students at First Baptist.

Other YMCA features, however, won’t have a place in the new ministry center.

“The pool has been one of the biggest questions,” Johnson said. “It’s been drained, (and) we don’t plan for it to be used right now, just because of the maintenance.”

“That’s disappointed our middle school students,” Turner said. “But it made their parents happy.”

The building adds 78,000 square feet to First Baptist’s footprint in downtown Columbia, but the three-story student center only occupies 30,000 square feet. Another three stories of the tower facing Sumter Street, now unoccupied, will be renovated in Phase 2 of the project.

Once that phase is completed, the building will complete the next step of the century-old connection between the church and the YMCA, which relocated nearby to Hampton and Bull streets.

“They had several offers for it,” Johnson said of the building. “But they wanted to give it to us.”

If you go

What: Ribbon-cutting for First Baptist Student Ministries Center

When: 1:15 p.m. Sunday

Where: 1420 Sumter St.

New life for the old ‘Y’

78,000 square feet in the old YMCA building

30,000 square feet of the building now are being used as First Baptist’s new student center

$6 million cost for First Baptist to buy and renovate the building

1 year spent renovating the former YMCA facility