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SWR residents seek answers after fitness center abruptly closed

When Shoreham resident Robert Badalian surveyed the crowd at Tuesday evening’s Shoreham-Wading River Board of Education meeting to see who had concerns about the abrupt closing of the fitness center, nearly every hand shot up.

The dozens of attendees, all Shoreham-Wading River residents and fitness center members, came to share their frustrations with the board and seek a timeline for when the fitness center may reopen.

The fitness center, a separate building located off the back parking lot of the high school, was closed June 28 after a report from the district’s architects deemed it unsafe, Superintendent Gerard Poole said.

Mr. Poole said the impetus for the architect’s involvement came in April when Mr. Poole toured the fitness center for the first time after being hired last summer. Two immediate concerns of the architects were the floor supports, which don’t provide the necessary square foot weight load for a fitness center, and the storage attic in the facility above some of the equipment has been deemed unsafe, Mr. Poole said.

“I do understand this has posed an inconvenience for residents who have enjoyed the fitness center, some who have been members for decades,” he said. “I appreciate everyone’s patience in waiting to tonight’s meeting for additional information on the fitness center.”

Glen Arcuri, the assistant superintendent for finance and operations,  said members were notified of the closing on June 28. The following message was posted on the district website the same day:

“Please be advised, effective immediately, the Shoreham-Wading River High School exterior fitness center is temporarily closed. The District apologizes for any inconvenience this may cause and will update the community when information regarding the center’s reopening is available.”

The closing didn’t affect memberships, as they run through school years and ended June 30, Mr. Arcuri said. Wading River resident Michael Malave challenged Mr. Arcuri, saying some college students purchase summer memberships and may have been affected by the closing.

Mr. Malave said he teaches a four-week strength training program for seventh and eighth graders through Community Programs, which he has been doing for 10 years. He said the closing came two weeks into the course. Mr. Arcuri said parents would be refunded for the class and any other programs that were affected.

Mr. Poole said a temporary fitness facility is in the works and will hopefully be complete by the fall so that it can be utilized for physical education classes and training for the high school athletes.

He added that no conclusion has been made on whether community members could access the temporary space, but noted that it will be a smaller space designed to support the students primarily.

“I could understand if [the architects] said it wasn’t designed for this and there should be more support, but it’s been there over 30 years,” Mr. Badalian said of the fitness center. “When you guys went downstairs to examine the ceiling on the lower level and there didn’t seem to be any signs of stress or failure, was it absolutely necessary to immediately shut down the gym and now wait months, maybe longer, to try and find a solution … I think it was extreme to make the decision to shut it down completely.”

The district is expecting to receive a report from its architect and engineer in about two weeks detailing either what modifications can be made to allow the space to continue to function as a fitness center or possible different uses for the space.

Those in attendance asked the board to keep the building a fitness center, stressing the importance of physical health and the opportunity the weight room gives for older members of the community to interact with students who they may not otherwise see.

“My children, we all go as a family. I’m very proud to be a member of it,” said Carlyn Baier of Wading River. “We all try to go in the morning. Many times I don’t get there in the morning and I go in the afternoon and I love seeing the kids. They’re wonderful.”

Photo caption: Michael Malave speaks at Tuesday’s meeting. (Credit: Nicole Smith)

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