June 16, 2024

Fitness center at crossroads

Straight Shots

On a bike ride Sunday afternoon, I passed by the Bill Sears Memorial ballfields.

Two teams of very young players, one a girls team and the other a boys team, were practicing on the hill field and the west field.

I know there are people in the newsroom working on a story about volunteers pitching in to get the concession stand going again at the complex, and up to code for inspection.

That kind of volunteer turnout for remodeling to restore an important community facility shows the collaborative nature of our residents. I love this one because there are so many memories of coaching little league and playing men’s slow pitch softball on those diamonds. That place occupied our time for many, many hours as our kids were growing up in Creston.

Likewise, we had a tremendous groundswell of community support when the fitness center was built on donated money in the mid-1990s, to go along with the Southwestern Community College offices and auditorium on the west half of the building on the SWCC campus.

Deb and I were involved in that effort, and Deb has taught fitness classes there for 25 years. Terms of the arrangement in which the city of Creston owns the building and has the insurance, are that no city taxpayer dollars would go toward daily operation of the center.

Things have changed in our culture since the center, formerly known as Southern Prairie YMCA in the YMCA network, was more than staying afloat financially before the Covid-19 pandemic. A lot of fitness organizations felt the sting of those cancelled memberships, as people learned to stay home and work out, and have faced challenges in getting back to previous levels.

Southern Prairie is certainly one of those. When it was making money just before 2020, memberships were at 1,100 units, which includes families, couples and individual memberships, meaning that memberships accounted for 2,000 individuals having access to the facilities.

Now, memberships are at 700 units, and only about 100 families.

Membership costs are competitive with other fitness offerings locally, which all have their niche. There’s a place for everybody, depending on what you’re looking for. At Southern Prairie, monthly memberships costs are $70 for a family, $60 for a couple and $45 for individuals.

One change since the center’s heyday is the lower number of families, which employees say is a cultural shift of sorts for the available recreational time. Busy schedules of practices and games for the various club sports have supplanted some of youth programming that used to take place in the building.

Seniors, and year-round swimmers, are still as active as ever at the center. And that’s the crux of this open letter to those involved in city government, Southwestern Community College, Greater Regional Medical Center and any other possible partner in the community to keep a health and fitness center open. Some of its recreation offerings are unique to that facility, for a large segment of our population.

This is Denise Kuhn’s last week as Southern Prairie Family Fitness Center executive director. What happens next, I have no idea. But I am hoping there are ways to partner up and keep it available to the public in some capacity in the long term.

This is the story of Deb and I related to the center, and from the number of peers in our age range found there during the early daytime hours, we are just two of many people who DEPEND on that facility to remain healthy and mobile in our later years.

Deb teaches morning fitness classes. We both meet friends there three mornings a week to play pickleball. Sometimes there are as many as 15 or more players there to take their turns on the two courts for two vs. two doubles. It would be a long winter without that fellowship and exercise.

While we are playing, there are often classes on the other side of the gym for elderly residents called “Silver Sneakers” and a special class for Parkinson’s patients, with Greater Regional Medical Center providing the instructor. At the same time, many folks are walking up on the track or using the fitness rooms. The pool is popular, as well.

But, when I go later in the day at my former workout time when I was working full-time, those crowds are down. But, still, there are often people using the track or shooting baskets.

Those are things we can only do at this center, unless there was special access to a school gym through a reserved time there. If this facility were ever to close, and get turned over to SWCC or some other entity, would those of us who like using the gym or walking track, or indoor pool in the winter, have any chance to continue doing those things?

That’s what we would be losing, if a collaborative solution isn’t worked out. It will take people working together to save something important, just like the folks restoring the facilities at the Bill Sears complex. But, this has the challenge of a $700,000 annual budget, in its current business model.

Deb and I want to remain residents of Creston in our retirement. We’ve already lost the theater and Pine Valley Golf & Bowl, for example. Our recreation center with a gym, pool and walking track, and indoor pickleball would be a significant loss. I hope there is awareness of that amidst our local leaders.

I did not intend for this to be a story of the Titanic sinking. But, there’s an iceberg ahead and we need to chart a viable course around it.


Contact the writer:

Email: malachy.lp@gmail.com

Twitter: @larrypeterson

Larry Peterson


Former senior feature writer at Creston News Advertiser and columnist. Previous positions include sports editor for many years and assistant editor. Also a middle school basketball coach in Creston.