Fitness Facilities: The New Trend in Athletic Equipment

Physical education in schools is undergoing extensive change. A current population of flabby, under-active children has forced educators to reassess physical education curriculum, looking to establish more realistic and attractive ways to entice students to become fit.

"Traditional physical education has died," says Dr. Juliana Texley, superintendent of Anchor Bay Schools in Michigan. Though her schools still offer some traditional physical education classes, "no one takes them." Making the task more difficult is that most states have no physical education requirement.

According to Judy Young, executive director of the National Association for Sport and Physical Education, the trend is to give students a more consumer-oriented view of physical education, "to make physical education more connected to their lives."

One of the primary changes being made in many schools is the addition of weight rooms, achieved by renovating existing space or through new construction. While these changes can come with a hefty price tag, most agree the benefits outweigh the cost.

Renovated Space

Northridge High School (Dayton, OH) first addressed the need for a weight room in 1989. Originally, says principal William Johnston, the weight room was put in for the sports teams. Its use was later expanded to the physical education program and opened to students and staff, as well as the community. Community access was discontinued by the third year for lack of interest and liability issues.

Johnston says they visited a number of schools with weight rooms to see how they converted and equipped their facilities. Space for Northridge's room was made from one of the school's machine shops, since enrollment in shop classes had declined. It was an ideal space because of ceiling clearances, open floor plan, and ventilation.

The cost to create the weight room was about $80,000, Johnston says. The approximately 1,500-square-foot room was given a coat of paint, rubber flooring, and a wall of mirrors. The school also purchased about 20 pieces of Nautilus equipment and free weights.

"It's been a real plus," Johnston says. He adds that the school wants to promote "lifetime things that students can do after they get out of school. Some of the kids who aren't even into sports get turned on to it," he says.

New Construction

Anchor Bay High School went the route of adding on a 5,000-square-foot weight training room, which was unveiled in September 1995, at a cost of $112 per square foot, according to architect Dale Jerome, senior associate with French Associates (Rochester, MI).

The room was designed to "get away from the converted storage room," Jerome says, and what was created offered a "lively space to reflect the activity. They wanted something with more appeal to all students."

Texley says equipping the room cost approximately $20,000, but that investment has paid off well. "There are more people using that room than any other," she notes. Texley figures that about 200 people a day use the facility, which is open 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.

The weight training room was opened to the community, as well, but Texley says she isn't sure how many non-students are coming to use it because it's always crowded.

Anchor Bay Schools also just opened a swimming pool on its middle school campus, which, when fully completed, will have a small, adjacent weight room. Texley says she and other staff members start their day at the swimming pool, jokingly adding that they have mini staff meetings in the pool each morning

When designing a weight training room, numerous factors require consideration. Tom Sawyer, a facilities consultant and professor of the Recreation and Sport Management program and coordinator of the graduate Sport Management program at Indiana State University, says you first must determine how the room is going to be used and by whom.

The questions to be answered, according to Sawyer, are the average number of students per physical education class; the sex and ages of users; the peak number to use the facility at one time; whether it will be open for community use; and the type of programs for which the room is to be used. The three types of equipment to consider are cardio-vascular, mechanized weights, and free weights. Choices should be age-appropriate for the students, as some machines are not suitable for younger children.

"Schools want to buy the most durable equipment they can," Sawyer says. He recommends low-tech, high-durability equipment if the room is for school use only, and slightly higher technology if it also is for community use. He says to expect to spend about $75,000 to equip a room.

One item often forgotten when budgeting for equipment is the cost of maintenance, Sawyer says. Unless the school has someone on the premises who knows how to repair and maintain the equipment, he often recommends buying a service contract with the vendor. Average maintenance costs run $2,000 to $5,000 a year, depending on the equipment and the amount of use.

Texley advises that schools either have staff knowledgeable in the use of the equipment, or pay for training their personnel. Sawyer concurs, stating that most lawsuits result from lack of proper supervision.

When renovating an existing space, Jerome suggests looking for an area with a minimum of 12 feet of ceiling clearance and no less than 1,000 square feet of open floor space; 1,500 to 2,000 square feet would be better, he says. The room should have good internal and natural ventilation and outside windows for natural light. Optimally, the space chosen should be near the school's gymnasium and locker rooms and allow for controlled access and after-hours use. Jerome says the same considerations apply to new construction.

According to Sawyer, in addition to wall mirrors, rubberized, sport-type flooring should be used in the free-weight area, and is recommended throughout, since dropped free weights can damage tile or concrete floors. Carpet can be used with cardio-vascular and mechanized equipment; however, perspiration on carpet can produce sanitation problems.

Another point Sawyer stresses is the way machines are plugged into electrical outlets. He suggests that plug-ins be placed under the machines, eliminating cord safety hazards and reducing maintenance. He says to plan enough floor space between pieces of equipment to allow for safe operation and access.

Jerome says that, for renovation, schools should expect to spend $70 to $85 per square foot, and $120 to $130 per square foot for new construction.

Recycled Equipment Aids Schools

Responding to a challenge to corporate America to "support and underscore physical education in our nation's schools to improve the health and fitness of our country's youth," Ken Germano has spent the past nine years bringing fitness equipment to schools and community areas that can't afford it through Operation FitKids.

Germano, the founder and CEO of the organization, says the "main focus of Operation FitKids is to create, at minimal cost, operational fitness facilities for girls and boys with no access to such," through high schools, boys and girls clubs, community centers, and housing developments. This is accomplished by "recycling" equipment that is no longer state-of-the-art.

"I have done this as a labor of love for the last nine years," says Germano, a former educator who currently works in the commercial fitness industry. "In building kids stronger, you're building their confidence, their self esteem," he explains.

"Physical education was being hammered" by school budget cuts, Germano says. Athletic programs usually are the first things cut, leaving some youth with nowhere to go to develop fitness skills.

Germano says little was being done with older fitness equipment, such as Nautilus-type equipment, treadmills, and stairmasters, which were not technologically state-of-the-art. So he made a study of depreciated equipment and the tax benefits to corporations of underwriting donated equipment. Then he approached and recruited corporate sponsors.

To date, Germano says the organization has opened 10 facilities a year, with its goal to have 1,000 facilities open by the year 2010.

Participation in Operation FitKids calls for schools to meet 10 criteria, among them:

The commitment to a quality physical education program.

Complete administrative support for the Operation FitKids initiative.

Demonstrating a degreed and qualified staff and providing release time for staff training and in-service.

Demonstrating facility access to students, faculty, staff, and community initiatives.

Allocation of 1,000 to 3,000 square feet of space for the Operation Fitkids site.

The ability to access ongoing community support.

Providing status and progress evaluations to Operation FitKids and other appropriate agencies.

Schools must fill out an application, including completion of the Operation FitKids Indemnification and Release form, which is evaluated by the Operation FitKids board of directors. For applications, send written requests to: Operation FitKids, 333 Third St., Suite 5, Laguna Beach, CA 92651.

The Great Skate: Phys Ed on Wheels

Since it requires no special facilities - merely a gymnasium or cafeteria floor - in-line skating is becoming a popular staple in school physical education curricula. Its popularity is being fueled by the partnership of Rollerblade, Inc., and the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE), which created the Skate-in-School program in 1996.

According to program manager Margot Willett, Rollerblade, Inc., provides schools with fundraising assistance to help pay for the Skate-in-School program, low-cost skating equipment packages, and in-service training to teach instructors. The program also provides NASPE-accredited skating curriculum, which "really addresses the Standard 2000 fitness goals," she says.

Equipment packages, which cost schools approximately $100 each, include skates and protective equipment. The number of packages and skate sizes needed are determined by class sizes and ages of students. Willett says about 40 equipment packages are needed for a class of 25 students. The skates come with non-marking brake pads for inside use so they won't scuff floors; for outdoor use, a second set of brake pads is provided.

The program's 10-part lesson plan includes teaching students how to fall, glide, balance, and stop. Willett says students have to learn these skills before they can engage in skating, adding the program is designed to teach students "lifelong skill development and how to skate safely."

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