Advocates praise fitness center

MANASSAS — Should the Prince William Health System’s Fitness Center close as announced by its board of trustees, about 680 members will lose a place many say they feel comfortable working out to keep healthy.

Among those will be Carl Smith, nearing 80 years old, and his wife, Carrie, who is 80. The married couple of 59 years are charter members of the center, making use of the wellness/fitness facilities at least three times per week.

“The proposed closing of the Fitness Center would definitely create a hardship for not only us, but everyone,” said Carl Smith, who routinely makes use of 11 pieces of equipment in the center.

Hospital trustees voted in November to close the Fitness Center, saying that with other more pressing projects, it can’t keep the center open. Projects include expanding the birthing center and enlarging the emergency and operating rooms at a cost of $80 million or more.

Smith is among a group of members fighting to keep the facility open despite announcements from the trustees that they haven’t changed their minds about closing the facility.

The trustees, however, have altered the closing date from Feb. 1 to May 6, allowing members to get proposals from other health clubs in the area.

Like a majority of the other members, the Smiths do not want the center to close — it has become a vital part of their life.

“There is no other facility that can offer all the services of the center. They have a wonderfully trained professional staff who can look out for our needs,” said Carl Smith.

Former hospital president Dr. Robert Regan “was instrumental in setting up the fitness program because he felt those using it would be less likely to become a hospital patient. I firmly believe in our case that is true,” Carl Smith said.

He said that three different doctors have recommended he exercise on a regular schedule.

“I tried doing it at home, but I didn’t have the proper equipment or supervision. So I joined the Fitness Center and it has really worked for me,” he said.

Carl Smith credits his workout at the center as keeping him in good enough shape to still lead an active life — even as he gets closer to 80.

A retired minister, Carl Smith came to Manassas in 1952 as pastor of the Manassas Church of the Brethren, where he served for 21 years before joining the former Commonwealth Savings and Loan Association. He worked at the association for 18 years before retiring.

Like her husband, Carrie Smith feels that making use of the Fitness and Wellness Center has played an important part in her health. She is a regular participant in the Smart Moves exercise class and sometimes joins her husband on the workout equipment.

Both feel that in addition to keeping them fit, the center has also served as sort of a “social gathering for them.”

“We’ve made a lot of new friends through our use of the facilities,” said Carrie Smith, who was a third-grade teacher at Bennett Elementary School in Manassas for 34 years before retiring.

Both said they wouldn’t be comfortable going into a fitness center filled with “jocks” working out, but will look at their options if and when the Fitness Center closes.

“We can’t credit our workouts entirely with keeping us healthy and active, but we sure do believe it helps. We think exercising is a most important part in maintaining our health,” said Carrie Smith.

Carl Smith said that he was shocked when he got word about the announced closing of the center the end of last year.

“We were at a concert at the Manassas Baptist Church when a friend came up to us and told us about the closing. Since that time, we’ve tried to work with other members to keep it open, but I don’t think the trustees have given us much hope,” he said.

He said that it’s a shame that the Health System trustees voted to close the facility. “When the hospital decided to open the fitness facility four years ago, they were at the cutting edge of preventive medicine. Now other hospitals are opening such centers, and we are shutting ours down. It just doesn’t make much sense.”

The trustees will meet Thursday to consider future options for the center.

Staff writer Bennie Scarton Jr. can be reached at (703) 368-3101, Ext. 125.

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