Fitness Center Addresses Concerns Expressed in Student Newspaper:
The Fitness Center would like to address the concerns discussed in the recent Brown and White editorial regarding the Taylor Gym facility and its equipment. We are appreciative that there is interest in improving fitness and recreational opportunities at Lehigh; our Athletics Department and Campus Athletics staff are committed to that very same aspiration. We hope that by sharing some basic information we can facilitate a better understanding of our operations which in turn might contribute to the dialog around opportunities for providing expanded services.
The first concern expressed in the editorial involved the assessment that we lack enough machines for every student who wants to work out. This concern is a legitimate one when assessed in the context of peak usage times. The reality is we may never have "enough" machines during the most desirable time periods, just as there are never enough lanes for cars traversing the tunnels/bridges for New York during peak travel times. Our challenge is to find the right balance in the types and numbers of equipment we make available with sensitivity to the peak time periods for usage. We will always seek to optimize this balance, as well as to find alternative locations in Taylor or on campus for locating additional pieces of the most popular equipment. At the same time, we want to note that the Fitness Center is open 16.5 hours per day (most days), and our data reveals that there are many time periods where use is quite limited.
There also was criticism of the online reservation process used for reserving our machines. Lehigh students have the "option" to reserve our cardio equipment such as treadmills and ellipticals for up to thirty minutes, but reservations are not necessarily a requirement. This process is analogous to reservations at restaurants. At peak times, the absence of a reservation will make it quite difficult getting a seat in a popular restaurant. Additionally, we receive advice regularly about how to improve our enforcement of reservations, as well as how we should leave some machines off the reservation list so they are available for drop in use.
The history of our cooperative users has indicated that "some" individuals abide by posted 30 minute workout times and some do not. Originally a "requirement" to reserve the equipment was put into place because individuals were complaining about their peers hogging equipment beyond the posted limits. The decision to adopt 30 minute time limits, especially during busy times, was intended to create more opportunities for more students to gain access to our cardio units. The Fitness Center responded to the contrary position on reservations which posed that not everyone is able to set and maintain a defined time to get to the center and keep their reservation. Consequently, we agreed to meet in the middle and make some machines available for drop in use, and others available only by reservation. The reservation system is "an option" not a requirement. If someone reserves a machine they have the right to keep the appointment on that unit for the 30 minute time period. Only half our units are available to reserve; the other half are open for drop in at any time. Our recent data shows that very few appointments are now made on line and drop in is more appealing. We will continue to monitor usage patterns and user preferences in the aim of providing services that our users determine are most appealing. Whatever system is adopted, it helps if our users abide by the expectations for time limits and machine access.
The Brown and White editorial acknowledged that the University "did a good job bringing in the new weight machines;" however, it also commented that the supply was insufficient for the demand. We work hard to provide new weight circuit options and additional cardio machines and each year we have some new equipment, thanks to the generosity of alums, friends of Lehigh University and Campus Athletics, and the efforts of our staff to manage our resources carefully enough to purchase new items.
In fact, over the past twelve years, we have generated revenue within the Fitness Center, fundraised, and ultimately invested $358,600 in new fitness equipment and video enhancements. Equipment maintenance is supported in house at the cost of $3,000-$4,000 annually for parts and labor. An outside contract quote for lesser service, not including needed parts or labor, was offered at $10,343 for visual inspections, oil and lube twice per year. In the past two years alone, the Fitness Center has added a complete new line of weight training machines, expanded the dumbbell training area, installed new Olympic benches, new Olympic training bars and new urethane covered grip friendly plate weights, new upright cycles, new elliptical runners and new treadmills. This has represented a total investment of over $150,000 over the past 3 years through department-generated funds and donations. Tuition resources have not been used.
We may not yet have "enough" new equipment to fulfill the expectations of our students, and it is true that our video systems definitely need updating. We also recognize there will always be a call for a "fresh feel" to the facility, however, we really do believe our center offers a quality set of fitness options, all without additional fees for membership. We sometimes find ourselves imagining how much we could do if we had the funds that students spend to join local clubs.
The editorial claimed our facility and its equipment are outdated and unsanitary in calling for improved services. Among all the suggestions we receive, the issue of cleanliness as perceived by our users is the most important perception to address and improve.
The sanitary safety of our patrons is of paramount importance here at the Welch Fitness Center, and we take seriously the advice of the editorial. The current practice of our contracted cleaning service provider is to use a green cleaner disinfectant and to concentrate on the machines in the locations where there is likely to be direct user contact. Their contracted obligations do not require thorough unit by unit cleaning each night. We intend to explore ways to enhance the quality of the contracted cleaning services received, and we intend to monitor even more carefully the conditions of our facility. We have researched options and learned that in order for the center to be cleaned more completely, an additional $4,000 annually will be required. Our established budget does not support this. We will be looking for additional revenue sources to cover these added costs. Additional steps that have been taken to improve facility conditions include eliminating the use of disposable gym wipes as patrons were not using them, and instead installing hand sanitizers throughout the facility. Additionally, our student staff uses towels to periodically wipe down our machines during the day. We pay for laundry services on those towels which are changed daily.
Finally, the last concern voiced in the editorial involved the actual gym hours. The current hours are in place due to the prudent management of the current staffing model (work-study staff only), data collection and analysis over the years of our facility use. Based on this data, we determine the reasonable and needed staffing investment. We have not opened early on Saturday or Sunday or stayed open late on Saturdays because past user data and current interest surveys have not supported the need to do so. In the past, our numbers during these times were very low and so the facility hours were adjusted accordingly so we did not expend our limited staffing dollars on only the few individuals that might use the facility. The Fitness Center is open during the weekdays sixteen and a half hours, Saturdays are 10 am to 8pm and Sundays 12 noon to 11 pm. We are offering hours from 10 pm – 2 am on advertised days in support of the Lehigh After Dark program and we are looking to adjust our opening hour on Sunday from 12:00 noon to 10:00 am. The hours can be adjusted, yet successfully implementing expanded hours ultimately depends upon fellow students fulfilling a commitment to work as Fitness Center student supervisors.
While the editorial written by the Brown and White feels the University has not seen the need to help students, we in the Campus Athletics area have seen and embraced that goal as a high priority. Hopefully more people will try to understand the extent of the efforts happening behind the scenes to support and encourage the students, faculty and staff fitness needs. The revenue generated by the Fitness Center office and alumni donations is the principle means of financing the operations of and the enhancements to the facility and ultimately there will be limitations. However, our Fitness Center staff and our Athletics administration are committed to this effort and to securing the funding needed to address the everyday needs of the campus community.
-The Fitness Center