After 15 years behind a storefront window in a strip mall at South King and Fairfax streets in Leesburg, the YMCA of Loudoun County is looking to build a free-standing place of its own to call home.

Officials at the YMCA in Leesburg said they are trying to work out a deal in which Loudoun County would donate 15 acres on Belmont Ridge Road for a $7 million to $8 million facility that would be built within the next three years.

The county received the land as part of a proffer with the developer of Broadlands and is seeking proposals for ways to use the land--of which the YMCA's is one, said Max R. Kipfer, president of the YMCA board of directors. Proposals are due tomorrow, and county officials will begin reviewing them after that.

Meanwhile, the YMCA is seeking strength in numbers by merging with the larger YMCA of Metropolitan Washington, which oversees 16 branches in Virginia, Maryland and Washington. The move will save the local YMCA about $200,000 in annual administrative costs and give it the staff resources and financial advice to start a major, 30-month capital fund-raising campaign for its new facility, Kipfer said.

Kelly Yost, who had been the executive director of the $1 million-a-year operation at the Leesburg YMCA in the Virginia Village shopping center, resigned earlier this month as part of the merger. His position will not be refilled as part of the cost-saving effort.

"This is a great opportunity for us because we'll be able to tap into their larger resources for staff, coaches and programs," Kipfer said. "By merging, we'll be able to build our own building much faster."

Kipfer said the YMCA's proposed facility would be about 70,000 square feet, complete with two gyms, an Olympic-size pool and a separate family pool, plus a teen center, meeting rooms, basketball courts and a weight room. If the YMCA is able to get a sizable tract, Kipfer said, he would also like to see a camp site built.

"It makes it difficult to tell people to come on down to the YMCA when there is no facility," said Terrie Laycock, president-elect of the group's board of directors.

For now, the YMCA rents school gyms and church basements throughout the county to run most of its programs for its estimated 3,000 patrons. It uses a meeting room at Loudoun Healthcare Inc.'s Cornwall Street campus for its senior aerobics programs and rents a pool in Sterling to teach swimming.

The YMCA uses a donated portion of J.R. Festival Lakes, a privately owned park on Fort Evans Road, to run its 10-week summer day camp and pays fees to use at least six elementary and middle school gyms and cafeterias for kung fu lessons and basketball and soccer leagues, which draw 700 children each season. Only a few yoga classes and after-school day-care programs are held in the small basement of its Leesburg facility. Street-level space is used for offices.

Wendell T. Fisher, a School Board member and senior program director at the YMCA, said he sometimes has to turn youngsters away because he doesn't have space in the 30 programs. Most classes are booked weeks in advance, and there is a wait list of 20 youngsters for a mentoring program.

"It really, really hurts us to not have our own facility because we miss opportunities on membership," Fisher said. "If we don't get our own building, we'll probably be pushed out of Loudoun County."

In addition, YMCA coaches say it is becoming more difficult to compete with the county's schools and recreational leagues, all of which are clamoring for precious gym space and practice fields.

"As the county grows, it gets harder and harder to get facilities," said Kaye Napolitano, branch manager of the Leesburg YMCA. "We've always been able to find one more school with one more spot. But we're quickly running out of space, and the space that is available is completely booked up."

Many local recreation leaders said there is a definite need for more recreation space in Leesburg.

"Ida Lee is often full and well used, and the Ashburn Sports Pavilion is for those residents," said Kipfer, who is also the chief operating officer of Benchmark Communication, which runs the town and county cable television franchise. "I expect that we will be at full capacity within the first 12 months of opening a new facility."

Construction of a new, $9 million 66,000-square-foot YMCA is underway in Reston. It will replace a space on Hunter Mill Road that the YMCA of Fairfax rents from the county to run its programs, said Evelyn Fine, vice president of marketing and communications for the YMCA of Metropolitan Washington. It is scheduled to open next fall.

Once a new facility is built in Leesburg, Fisher said he wants to expand its offerings to include midnight basketball for teenagers and evening computer training courses and general equivalency diploma classes for adults.