On Sept. 15, visitors from all over Fairfield County gathered to celebrate the grand reopening of the Darien YMCA.

The newly reopened YMCA underwent a $9 million renovation which took nearly 18 months to complete.

The project has transformed the facility, which, before March 2011 -- when the renovation broke ground -- was in an utter state of disrepair.

"It's just a beautiful facility. We have a new gymnastics center, a new lobby, a new nursery school, updated locker rooms, as well as updates to our fitness center. We really made this a state-of-the-art facility," Darien YMCA aquatics director Jim Matthews said at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

The new, more contemporary entrance boasts a dramatically high ceiling that allows natural sunlight to pour into the YMCA entrance hall through a long band of skylights that span across the ceiling's natural wood frame.

The entrance also utilizes natural sunlight through a large glass window that stretches from floor to ceiling and provides an incredible view of Holly Pond.

In addition to the new entrance, a wing for the Holly Pond Nursery School has been added to the YMCA; its colorful and spacious rooms deeply contrast that of the original facility built in the late 1920s.

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The building also includes a state-of-the-art gymnastics facility exceeding 10,000 square feet -- plenty of room to accommodate a vaulting runway, floor exercise area and uneven bars.

The Darien YMCA gymnastic program is looking forward to returning from its temporary Goodwives Shopping Center location, into the newly renovated gymnasium.

The Darien YMCA was conscientious of the environment when planning the renovation.

The facility installed cogeneration technology -- a system that utilizes one fuel source, natural gas, to generate both heat and electricity for the building.

The system will reduce greenhouse emissions by improving the way heating and air is used throughout the building, and will reduce the facility's carbon footprint.

The much-anticipated reopening was celebrated with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Rob Morrison, anchor of CBS 2 News This Morning and "At Noon" with Mary Calvi, presided over the grand reopening as master of ceremonies at the ribbon-cutting event.

Morrison moved to Darien last year with his family and is an active member of the Darien YMCA. During his speech, he praised the Darien YMCA for being a welcoming place within the Darien community when he first arrived to town.

First Selectman Jayme Stevenson, state Rep. Terrie Wood, R-141, U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, as well as state Sens. Bob Duff and Carlo Leone, were also in attendance at the ribbon-cutting.

Wood, a proud supporter of the Darien YMCA, summed up her opinion of the new facility with one word: "Fantastic."

While the YMCA's renovation may very well be "fantastic," it is important to acknowledge the many other facets that go into making the YMCA a great asset to the Darien community.

"We are open to all people here (at the Darien YMCA). We offer an inclusive environment to all ages, abilities, races, religion and income levels. We are not exclusive at all," YMCA Executive Director Pat Morrissey said.

"Something that makes the Y unique."

The opening of a Chelsea Piers Sports and Entertainment Complex just down the road in Stamford makes it hard not to wonder if the YMCA will fall under the 400,000-square-foot shadow the sports complex is sure to cast. However, aspects of the YMCA that contribute to its "unique" environment, such as the YMCA's special-needs program and fitness programs for youth and senior members, make it an invaluable resource to the community.

"Y's nationwide have been very intentional about combating childhood obesity, and it starts most importantly with getting kids active and ensuring that at least the foods we provide at the Y are healthy choices and not junk food." Morrissey said.

Morrissey added that he looked forward to seeing more kids having fun and getting healthy at the Darien YMCA now that the renovation has been completed.

At the grand reopening, it was hard not to notice all of the young kids running around the new facility and having a good time.

"We are excited to go on the bouncy castle," Scott Ruckman said while he and his son, Conor, waited in line for the bounce house after the ceremonies.

The YMCA welcomed both members and nonmembers to participate in the fun-filled Saturday morning that included pony rides, sailboat rides, a magician; music, a tour of the YMCA's new facility and demo classes.

On Friday, Sept. 21, the Darien YMCA's Thriving Youth Task Force will offer a "Family Dinner Day," a national campaign organized by CASA (the National Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University).

The event will take place from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. and will include dinner, swimming, open gym, games and goodie bags.

Mac McDonough is a freelance writer.