By Jeff Gallatin
Mayor Kevin Kennedy believes he can help shape up the North Olmsted Recreation Center and members of the community by adding a fitness area to the facility.
Kennedy announced plans Friday to place a fitness area on the second floor of the recreation center, which was built in 1974. The plan will put cardio machines, circuit machines and free weights on the second floor of the facility. The area will include new HVAC, lighting, painting and windows overlooking the pool. Memberships will be available to the fitness area, along with an option for picking from an a la carte menu of additional options including the ice rink, pool and tennis areas.
To make space for the new area, Kennedy said the gymnastics program and equipment will be moved to the current tennis court area, taking the place of two of the current tennis courts. Two courts would still be available for tennis, he said.
Referring to the plan, Kennedy said it’s in response to community desires and input.
“Just about anytime the rec center comes up, we hear ‘why isn’t there fitness equipment in the rec center?’ or ‘when are you going to add some fitness equipment?’ This is something that people have wanted in the city,” Kennedy said. “I’d like to have this up and running by about this time next year.”
The mayor said although the rec center remains important to North Olmsted, it needs an upgrade.
“Although our city was ahead of the game in 1974 when the recreation center was built, we are now decades behind other cities in our area,” he said.
Kennedy said he does not have any financial figures yet for what the proposal would cost the city.
“It’s going to depend on what is ultimately done and how we do it,” he said. “We could end up partnering with some groups or organizations to get it done.”
He said it is not like the multi-million dollar proposal made by former Mayor Thomas O’Grady several years ago. O’Grady proposed partnering with the YMCA and Fairview Hospital to redo the center. That proposal ultimately was withdrawn by O’Grady’s administration after it received community opposition.
“This project isn’t on that scale,” Kennedy said. “We’re going to focus on the fitness aspect and make sure we have a good place for the gymnastics as well because they have very successful programs here.
“The current setup of the gymnastics area is hampered by low ceilings and little space,” he said. “By moving the gymnastics program to the tennis courts, it will allow for growth and the ability to host local and regional meets.”
Kennedy said he expects some opposition from tennis proponents, but emphasized there still will be two tennis courts for people who would like to learn the game.
North Olmsted Recreation Commissioner Betsy Drenski said she is enthusiastic about the upcoming changes.
“Often times, people walk into our building expecting a fitness area,” she said. “And leave disappointed that we do not have one.”
Drenski said everyone who currently uses the recreation center can benefit from cardio, circuit and weight machines, adding that residents and nonresidents will benefit from a community provided fitness area.
Other officials liked the idea.
“You hear a lot that people in the city want a place to work out,” said Councilman-at-large Kevin Kearney, who chairs council’s facilities committee and is the the council representative to the North Olmsted Recreation Commission. “I work out at the Westlake Rec Center and have to pay extra because I’m a nonresident there. I’d love to have a place in North Olmsted where I could do that.”
Kearney lauded Drenski and Assistant Recreation Commissioner Chris Wetmore, saying they can handle the change in the facility.
“They have a great attitude and can make this work,” Kearney said.
North Olmsted School Board President Tom Herbster also liked the idea.
“This could be a win-win for the city and the schools,’ he said, noting the two are finalizing a more formal joint facilities operating agreement.
“A fitness center like that would be a benefit to our athletes and students by giving them access to something like at,” he said. “Plus it would be a plus for the entire city — including the schools to have a facility like that. Just like it would be a plus for the entire city to have the proposal to put a new artificial turf on the the athletic stadium because many people could use it.”