Bangor Township Family turns an old YWCA building into home Other half of 24,000-square-foot facility is assisted-living center

By Zachary Reichard

The Bay City Times

BANGOR TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) -- Before entering the old gymnasium at the former Bay County YWCA building, Marookeh Nahikian bends down to pick up a discarded pair of pink socks, a sign one of his three daughters has been there.

"They pretty much have their roam of the place. Normally there are just Barbie Jeeps and roller blades and whatever," says the 32-year-old Bangor Township resident, whose family now lives in the 24,000-square-foot building at 3405 E. Midland Road.

Nahikian purchased the building from the YWCA for $500,000 in July 2009 after the organization cut its fitness program, listed the building for sale and decided to focus more on its mission of helping women.

Since then, Nahikian has turned one half of sprawling facility into an adult assisted-living center. He converted the other half into a home office and living space for his wife, daughters and two sons.

Nahikian's decision to buy the building was spurred by his 8-year-old daughter, Arkadiy. She suffers from cystic fibrosis and her parents weren't sure she could attend school on a full-time basis. Nahikian began looking for a home that would be a better fit than their former residence on the Kawkawlin River.

"We were looking for a place where we could bring the school to her and serve both needs," Nahikian said. "Where we were living, looking at the cost and upgrading things, at the time it made sense to take this on."

Nahikian said Arkadiy cannot go outside during the summer because heat increases the symptoms of cystic fibrosis. Having a cool place like the indoor gymnasium keeps her out of the sun while allowing her to run around and play with her friends.

In addition to the half million Nahikian put up to purchase the building, he has spent more than $200,000 on upgrades to turn the facility's former exercise center into living space.

Broken windows and other maintenance and renovation projects were needed before the family could reside there.

"The building was built in '77, so it's not going to be brand new when you move in," Nahikian said.

The family's main living area is in the 5,000-square-foot basement, where a weight room once was located. Rooms are divided by portable sliding closets reaching up to the ceiling that can be taken down and rearranged as the children grow up and rooms need adjusting.

Upstairs, Nahikian has a home office for his millwork design and engineering company, Niche Designs. Nahikian, who grew up in Evart and attended ITT Tech in Grand Rapids, started the company in 2007, working with Virgin Airlines to design its ticket counters.

"Every city that they go into, we go in and make their ticket counters, their kiosks, the bag sizers, their headphone boxes, self-service devices," Nahikian said. "It's high end stuff, so not every cabinet shop can whip it together."

Niche Designs also makes museum displays, including work for the Jewish Children's Museum in Brooklyn, the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills and the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology in Ann Arbor.

Opening an assisted-living program was the idea of Nahikian's wife, Ginger, a registered nurse who has worked in the home health field for 10 years. They opened Niche Aging Center and Adult Day Care with the idea that they would have space for the business to grow.

"I was telling her, so many people are taking a house and putting older people in there. It would be nice to have a facility that looks more appealing and looks like a business, and you have the opportunity to grow into later," Nahikian said.

Ginger manages the aging center, which currently has five rooms and four residents.

"We couldn't afford (the building) without the assisted living center," Nahikian said.

Nahikian said the space was overwhelming at first, but the family has grown to love the converted building.

"I don't think we could ever see ourselves moving anywhere else after having this much space," Nahikian said. "It's a lot to keep up with but, at the same time, they do things I could only imagine growing up."

Nahikian said the family is still deciding what to do with some parts of the building, including the empty indoor swimming pool that currently houses patio furniture, but Nahikian said he is happy with the purchase.

"It's been interesting. A lot of people think I'm crazy, but I've known that for a long time," he joked.

Published: Wed, Nov 16, 2011