Advocates seek ways to keep Prince William Hospital Fitness Center open

MANASSAS — A group of 80 Prince William Health System’s Fitness Center members have organized to continue their fight to keep the center open.

Refusing to believe their effort is a lost cause, the group, headed by Paul Gibson, wants the Health System to cancel plans to close the Fitness Center on May 3.

“I was stunned when I first heard about plans to close the facility,” said Gibson, who has been an active user since it opened.

Gibson said in spite of the board of trustees’ firm decision to close the center, “there are still many ways to keep it open.”

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

Gibson said his steering committee of Rodger Solomon, Cyndy Snyder, Jeff Abel and Tim Cope will continue to work with the trustees and staff on finding an affordable way to keep the facility open.

The committee plans to meet with the Health System staff prior to the trustee’s next meeting on Jan. 24, outlining their goals of ways to keep the center open.

“We consider the center’s facilities and services irreplaceable and too valuable to be discontinued,” said Gibson, noting that there is no other facility in the area that has the unique well-trained staff, equipment and services to provide the preventive health and rehabilitation prescribed by doctors. He said a majority of the existing members would be willing to pay more in fees to keep the center open.

In November, the trustees announced the center would close Feb. 1, but after many complaints by the center’s 680 members, the board reconsidered and postponed the closure until May 3.

The trustees, according to Cynda Tipple, vice president for strategic development for the Health System, said a membership of 1,100 would be needed for the center to break even financially. The only way to accommodate that number is to expand the facility at a cost of $1.8 million.

Gibson said he understands the hospital has pressing needs to expand its birthing center, emergency and operating rooms, “but the fitness center should also be an important priority.”

In the meantime, Tipple said Health System officials met with eight local organizations Friday to hear their interests in providing the health care services for Fitness Center members if, and when, the facility closes.

Those in attendance were Gold’s Gym & Aerobics Center, Olympus Gym, Womenfit Total Fitness Center, Freedom Aquatic & Fitness Center, Contours Express, Bull Run Athletic Club, Powerplant and Manassas Baptist Church.

“We are looking at several options, including for a business or individual to buy the Fitness Center and operate it at a different location or to transfer the management and operation of the center in the existing location,” said Tipple.

Tipple said a letter will be sent out soon to the membership to see if there is any interest by a group or individual buying out the center.

“We want this transition to be as easy as possible for our members. We are willing to work the membership to find alternative ways of continuing the service in the community. The trustees have not agreed to reconsider their decision to close the facility on May 3 at this time,” Tipple said.

The 80 members striving to keep the facility from closing met and organized last Wednesday at the Manassas council chambers.

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

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