By Greg Oliver  Contact / Staff Bio)

SENECA — Seneca Mayor Dan Alexander has served in political office for more than 20 years and, during that time, the most frequently asked question he has heard from citizens is when a new indoor YMCA facility would become a reality in Oconee County.

That question, along with others, was answered Thursday when plans for the construction of a three-level, 60,000-square-foot indoor Foothills Area Family YMCA were announced by the Keowee River Preservation Group. The overall project will consist of 774 acres, including residential, retail, restaurants, commercial office space and entertainment venues, and the new Y facility will stand on a point that overlooks Lake Hartwell on S.C. Highway 130, north of Seneca.

The YMCA project will feature a lap swimming pool, a family splash area with a slide and other water features geared toward children; a gymnasium with an indoor walking track suspended above, a fitness area and a child care area to assist individuals working out or using any aspect of the facility.

Because of its lake access, the Y will still have opportunities for waterfront activities and water sports.

“It’s a great day for Oconee County, and being able to have the organization on this property and being able to reach out is fantastic,” Alexander said. “The support for this is going to be great because people have wanted it for so long.”

Oconee County Council Vice-Chairman Joel Thrift said he is thrilled with the news of an indoor YMCA, as well as overall plans for the 774 acres. Thrift calls the project “a plus for Oconee County,” which he hopes will provide an economic stimulus.

“It was my predecessor’s (Bill Rinehart) goal to see a YMCA in Oconee County, as well as mine, and this is a project we welcome and look forward to,” Thrift said. “As a governing body, we look to partner with Mr. (Scott) Vick (of Keowee River Preservation Group) to see it become a success and move forward.”

State Rep. Bill Sandifer, R-Seneca, said many individuals fail to realize that the Foothills Area Family YMCA’s current home on S.C. Highway 93 is actually located in Oconee County.

“The exciting part is that the new YMCA will be in Oconee County, where it has been all along, and the fact that we’re going to have the programs a YMCA should have in a facility like ours makes this a special event for all people in Oconee County,” Sandifer said.

Sandifer said he is also pleased that the entire Keowee River Development is going to be open to the public.

“I think we need the openness and for people to have the availability of these special amenities that are offered here,” he said.

State Rep. Bill Whitmire, R-Walhalla, said he is so enthused over plans for an indoor Y in Oconee County that he and his wife, Kathy, plan on joining.

“It’s something that’s been needed in Oconee County for a long time, and the way they (Keowee River Preservation Group) plan to preserve the natural surroundings is exciting,” Whitmire said.

Groundbreaking for the YMCA is expected to take place in the spring of 2010, followed by a 12 to 18-month construction period. However, outdoor events can take place on the field space surrounding the proposed facility during construction.

Y officials say their office will be located at the new facility, but are hopeful of establishing satellite locations at their current facility on S.C. Highway 93, as well as near Walhalla and Westminster.