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Community effort seeks to save Antioch’s Curl gym

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The text message reads: “ball at noon.”

Modern technology meets pick-up game of basketball.

“One gentleman and I come no matter what,” said Branson Pyles recently, taking a moment out from practice to be interviewed.

For 12 years, Pyles has been part of a basketball group that meets weekly at the Curl Gymnasium, commonly referred to as Antioch Gym.

“It’s a nice group of high school, former high school, college players and community members,” he said. “We help them with their game. They can outrun us but we can out move the ball.”

Pyles knows most of the kids who join them because at one time in their life he was their soccer or basketball coach. He brings his fourth grader, Folger, and Folger’s friends and cousins to the gym. “All I have to do is ask, ‘Do you wanna go to the gym?’ and phhht, they’re here. Between the mats upstairs, the pool and the basketball, they’re in heaven.”

The Curl Gymnasium is much more than its name implies. The building houses an upper gym with weight training and cardio-fitness equipment, a climbing wall, a balcony with assorted punching bags, two gymnasiums, four racquetball courts, a regulation size swimming pool, a dance studio and performance space. It provides the same amount of fun, friendship and physical exercise as a modern multiplex fitness center at half the cost.

But all of that is on the line. As of now, the gym is slated to close June 30 with the rest of the Antioch College campus, unless a local effort to save the building succeeds.

“Our future depends both on the results of the survey [presently being distributed] and on the university keeping its word to lease us the building,” said Judy Kintner, director of Antioch College physical education and facility manager.

Kintner is at the forefront of the “Save the Gym” effort to maintain the gym as a non-affiliated entity.

“We would serve the Yellow Springs area and whatever entity comes to or stays on campus,” said Kintner. “The vision is to consolidate a number of needs into one facility so that we lessen our utility and maintenance footprint. This consolidation will allow all of us — dance, theater, team sports, therapeutic swim — to succeed where individually I don’t think we could at this point.”

Kintner and Antioch dance professor Jill Becker, along with a group of investors and concerned citizens, are proposing a way to maintain the facility and raise adequate funds to improve it. A business plan based on results of the survey is being developed by Wittenberg economics professors David Wishart and Jeff Ankrom, and is slated for completion in early July.

“This proposal gives [the university] a different way of looking at their plans for the campus for at least the next three or four years,” said Kintner. “A very successful collaboration can happen if we go about it in this way.”

For Kintner, the Antioch gym is a lifeline to the community’s overall health and well-being. “We all know the statistics about obesity, the high incidence of heart disease, the increase in smoking rates among school-age kids,” said Kintner. “We know that Village resources are stretched thin and that they may need to shut down some Bryan Center functions. When you look at the picture as a whole, what you see is that options for wellness, fitness, and activities for kids in this town are decreasing fairly dramatically.”

The effort could be successful, according to Antioch University Chief Financial Officer Tom Faecke in a recent interview.

“If an acceptable plan can be put together, the university is committed to keep the gym open,” said Faecke. “An alternative heating source would need to be found for the gym and the pool. The pool needs extensive work and the physical condition of the gym’s infrastructure is in need of repair, roof, plumbing, etc. That being said, if the resources can be found, we are prepared to work with the community of which we are a part. Where there is a will, there may be a way.”

But some gym users have already lost its services. On Friday, May 30, Antioch University requested that the pool be drained to avoid potential liabilities during the transition. Jan Goodwin has been a part of the Antioch pool for 20 years, teaching kids and seniors how to swim. She’s also been leading the Water Nymphs — senior men and women — in water exercise for eight years.

“The group has been displaced,” said Goodwin, whose plans to start an intense water workout catering to a younger crowd have been temporarily sidelined. The Water Nymphs have a large and loyal following and even raised funds to purchase the gym’s defibrillator.

The gym has been well used by the community. When the schools close for a “snow day,” Kintner said, there will be 30 kids at the gym. “If we go away, those 30 kids are going to go somewhere else,” she said. “Do you go sit out in front of The Emporium? Drive out of town? You have got to provide accessible, positive options for kids, reasons for seniors to come out and socialize and be active. The motivating force for everyone engaged in this effort is that none of us want to live in a town that doesn’t provide these options.”

The number of people in the community who use the gym is as exhaustive as the many ways in which the gym is used.

Kingsley Perry has been playing volleyball for 36 years at the gym, currently seven times a week. He also uses the upstairs gym for weight-training. Perry, 72, credits his workouts for keeping his knees in good shape.

Perry’s teammate, Donna Silvert, likes the flexibility of the pick-up games. “You don’t have to schedule it or commit to it,” she said. “If you have the time, it’s open to anybody.” The intergenerational mingling is a big appeal for Silvert. “You get high school kids and [octogenarian] Walt Tulecke playing volleyball together. That’s what community is.” Silvert also uses the weight-training equipment and often works out with her friend, Pat Robinow.

“I love the Antioch gym,” said Silvert’s brother, Neil, who uses the gym daily for strength-training and aerobic workouts. “It’s wide open,” he said. “I love the high ceilings and the beautiful old wood. It’s not one of those sterile environments. It’s got class.” After introducing his friend, Kurt Thrasher, to the boxer’s balcony, Thrasher, 50, moved to an apartment two blocks away. Thrasher’s hypnotic pounding on the speed bag is a familiar sound to gym users.

University of Dayton returning adult student Suzanne Fogerty can easily be spotted working out on the elliptical machine while concentrating on her required reading. “I’d either be out of shape or failing my classes if I wasn’t able to do that,” Fogerty said about her simultaneous workout. Her 6-year-old daughter, Kiera, comes for impromptu play dates with other gym kids.

“I can’t start my day until I exercise at the gym,” said Naomi Orme who sees how exercise affects both her and her kids’ ability to focus. She and her husband, Jim, who home-school their kids, notice a big difference between the days when their kids exercise and when they don’t. “When they exercise in the morning,” she explained, “they really get to task when they get home and have a better attitude about schoolwork.”

Ali Thomas and her husband, Rick Walkey, bring their daughter, Charlotte, to the gym regularly. “If the gym goes,” said Thomas, “we might be moving. It’s that important. I can’t survive the winter without the gym.” The gym plays an integral part in their family’s life. “There isn’t a room I don’t know,” said Thomas, whose involvement includes a swim clinic and variety of dance programs. “The dance community would be crushed by the loss of the South Gym,” she said.

Kintner sees the importance of starting exercise young. “Kids need to come in with their parents and see them exercising,” she said. “They need to see exercise as a part of the day as much as eating or sleeping.”

In order to move forward with the plan, a shift in perception from the village is essential. “This facility has been underwritten by the college forever,” Kintner cautioned. “People are accustomed to walking in and paying only $3 and getting use of a fairly decent facility. We won’t have that anymore. We’re going to have to charge market rate — more like what the YMCA charges — to provide this better product.” At the same time, philanthropic dollars will be needed to tend to long-overdue repairs and improvements. “It’s still going to be that cool place that’s big and airy and welcoming,” she assured, “but it’s going to have a pool that doesn’t leak and improved piping and wiring and better locker rooms and a turf gym so you can play indoor soccer.”

The gym has not been able to provide swim or aerobic classes, or fitness training for the community because they’ve been a college-class-providing entity. “When we make this shift,” Kintner said, “we will be asking, ‘What does the community need in terms of its health and well-being?’ That’s the part I’m excited about. We can start providing proactively instead of just taking whatever business walks in.”

The new plan includes a three-phase series of improvements. “If we can get people to hang with this and pay that market rate for the first six months to a year while we’re fundraising,” said Kintner, “the benefit will be a much, much nicer facility at the end of the road.”

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