Lifting the Weight off Municipal Fitness Facilities: How Your Fitness Facility Can Complete with Private Gyms

By Ostrander, Theresa | Parks & Recreation, July 2004 | Go to article overview

Lifting the Weight off Municipal Fitness Facilities: How Your Fitness Facility Can Complete with Private Gyms


Ostrander, Theresa, Parks & Recreation


More than 1,000 citizens of Carrollton, Texas, attended the grand opening of the 20,000 square-foot expansion at the popular Rosemeade Recreation Center in May 2003, The expansion included a second gym, new customer service desk, a 3,800 square-foot dance floor and a 5,000 square-foot fitness room. The fitness room, the number one amenity requested by the citizens, incorporated three components--a stretch area, cardio-equipment and strength training areas with multi-station fitness machines and free weights.

The fitness room was identified as the core service by staff when the Parks and Recreation Department (PARD) went through a master planning process in 2001. Many professionals who have gone through the process of redefining parks and recreation services now realize it's not enough to say fitness is a core service--it's what citizens are looking for from most departments. By conducting focus groups with citizens, compiling independent surveys, demonstrating professional competencies in the field, and demonstrating that no existing services in the community were duplicated, the Carrollton Parks and Recreation Department had to determine what made the facility different from private health and fitness clubs and what park and recreation professionals need to do to stay competitive in this market?

First they need to identify what makes parks and recreation fitness facilities different from private-commercial facilities. Parks and recreation fitness center memberships/ annual passes are offered to the community for a fee that is affordable to the general public and is open to citizens of all ages, sex, race and religion. If high fees in commercial health and fitness facilities inhibit participation or prevent the general community from obtaining the benefits of fitness, PARD is there to provide an affordable alternative. A parks and recreation fitness center can even compliment and add value by offering the community a tiered pricing structure.

Parks and recreation facilities also offer special provisions for low-income or financially needy citizens and families. Since it is not a commercial for-profit franchise there are no high-pressure sales. PARD facilities also offer no promises of constantly toned muscles, added curves, and lost inches--the fitness rooms are simply there for citizens to use. The facilities are sometimes not fancy and rarely cutting edge, but they are clean and offer friendly services and professionally-trained staff. Most cannot afford to be open 24 hours a day, but do make every effort to be open as many hours as financially viable. Most park and recreation facilities track usage and are committed to changing operational hours that best meet citizens needs.

What do professionals need to do to be competitive in the market place? First, they need to be aware of resources that are available to the parks and recreation profession (the list below is not intended to be inclusive of all available resources--only those used in preparation of this article). Some of these include the American Heart Association (AHA), American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), U.S. Department of Justice-Federal Staff Fitness Centers, IRS-Exempt Organizations Technical Topics-Health Clubs, Ontario Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences, International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Associations (IHRSA), American Council on Exercise (ACE). These resources allow us to collect valuable information in the fitness industry.

A 1999 IHRSA club trend study reports that more than 20 million people from across the country currently exercise in private or public health/fitness facilities. People over the age of 35 hold a majority of these memberships or annual passes with the fastest-growing segment of the fitness boom being 55 and older. Specialty exercise programs for older persons and individuals with chronic diseases--like coronary heart disease (CHD)--are becoming more mainstream and popular among users.

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