YWCA Columbus’ renovation stretches its staff into new roles

“With something like this, you take down a wall, and you find something behind it that nobody expected,” she says.

Even with the challenges, Di Bella says they didn’t build new and move to the suburbs because location is critical. Their constituents rely on access to health care providers, jobs and continuing education.

In addition, using historic tax credits adds requirements that can potentially extend the project’s length, if they aren’t solved ahead of time, O’Toole says.

“Our pool is one of the historic elements that we are required to preserve,” she says. “In the renovation, the pool becomes the ballroom floor and to preserve it, we built over it without filling it in. This way, it can be restored if someone down the line sees the need.”

With funds from multiple sources, O’Toole says, the YWCA Columbus staff also put in significant work creating a system to track the money and manage compliance.

Do your homework

Di Bella had never done a comprehensive renovation project, so she did her homework — talking with those who do it for a living or nonprofit leaders who’ve gone through renovations.

“We really garnered a lot of expertise, but as you can imagine, with any kind of complicated historic renovation, you learn a lot as you go along,” she says. “And that has been an interesting journey in itself.”

Something that helped keep the project on track was open lines of communication through regular meetings and a collaborative internal team, Di Bella says.

Many people told Di Bella it would cost more and take longer than anticipated, which was true.

O’Toole remembers Tom Katzenmeyer of the Greater Columbus Arts Council talking about how the project will feel like it will never be done, and then one day, boom, you’re in the fast track to the end. Again, true.

As much as you try to prepare, however, the experience itself teaches you the most, Di Bella says. You have to go through it.

“It’s a lot of work, a lot of extra hours, but it’s well worth it — if you’re doing it for the right reasons,” she says. “We’re not doing it for us to have better offices, certainly not. We’re doing it to make sure these women have the appropriate facilities for them to learn the life skills that they need, and so they can eventually leave us and be productive citizens.”