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How Fit Is Your Fitness Center?
A survey reveals common characteristics of new fitness centers: hours of operation, facility size, equipment and special amenities

Have you ever wondered how to stay ahead of the curve to improve your fitness center? Findings from Burnidge Cassell and Associates, Inc.'s 2001 survey on fitness centers will aid you in determining what you may want to consider as an improvement to your existing or planned facility. In the survey, 49 Illinois park and recreation directors and administrators revealed the following factors that affect their success.

Membership Size. We all know that membership size dictates space requirements. The Park Ridge Park District—with 3,000 fitness center members and a 5,400 square-foot fitness center—indicated on its survey that the district would increase the size of its fitness center if it could. With 96 pieces of equipment, a 1,200 square-foot free-weight area, and an adjacent two-lane elevated jogging track, you might think, what else do they need?

According to Park Ridge's community center coordinator, Robert DeLeonardis, since it opened the fitness center has expanded into an adjoining space. A former aerobics room was converted into a free-weight area and allowed the number of cardiovascular equipment to increase in the fitness center. One idea the park district is considering is to convert an existing racquetball court into a spinning room with twelve exercise bikes. Thinking outside of the box, like Park Ridge, is one way to stay ahead with little capital expenditure.


The abundance of daylight and windows contribute to the 99,000-square-foot Niles Human Services and Family Fitness Center being a recipient of an Illinois Park and Recreation Association Outstanding Facility Award. Photo by Burnidge Cassell Associates.

Slightly fewer than half (46%) of the respondents have fitness center memberships that are between 75 to 1,000 people. The second largest membership size reported (29%) was in a range of 1,001 to 2,000 people, while one quarter reported their membership ranging from 2,001 to 3,799.

Hours of Operation. Only one survey reported being open six days a week and, as you might expect, it also reported the smallest membership.

• Monday -Friday
The earliest opening time was 5:00 AM and the latest closing time was 10:30 PM. An overwhelming majority (92%) reported opening between 5:30 AM and 6:30 AM. Three-quarters (76%) reported a closing time between 9:30 PM and 10:30 PM.

• Saturday
The earliest opening time was 6:00 AM and the latest closing time was 10:00 PM. The majority (60%) reported opening at 11:00 AM, while almost ALL (96%) open before 8:30 AM. Closing times ranged from 3:00 PM to 10:00 PM with about two-thirds (80%) closing no later than 6:00 PM.

• Sunday

The earliest opening time was 6:00 AM and the latest closing time was 10:00 PM. More than three-quarters (84%) reported opening time between 7:00 AM and 9:00 AM. Closing times ranged from 2:00 PM to 10:00 PM with the majority (68%) closing no later than 6:00 PM.

34 Illinois Parks and Recreation


A continuous clerestory light well, exterior windows and an audio-video system along a series of large openings to the floor below, Creole a visually stimulating 5,000-square-foot fitness center at the Nites Fitness Center. Photo by Burnidge Cassell Associates.

Facility Size. With fitness centers proving to be revenue-generating program space, recreation professionals are realizing that bigger fitness centers are better. Just ask Randy Schawel, director of the Itasca Park District. The park district plans to expand its existing 1,536-square-foot fitness center constructed in 1991 to 5,000 square feet.

Schawel says: "If you don't keep up, people will go elsewhere."

Over the past ten years the Itasca Park District has consistendy found that its fitness center is a revenue generator, a key service and a revenue base. With membership leveling for the first time since opening the fitness center, the park district understands the potential for increasing their revenue through expanding their services. Improvements will include a free-weight area, a kid's fitness area, a specialty area for new trends in fitness, a stretching area, a testing/evaluation area, office space and, most importantly, space to add more equipment for treadmills and elliptical trainers. The park district is hopeful that its planned improvements will be adequate for the next 20 years.

In 1989, when the Itasca Park District was planning an addition to its facility, a fitness center wasn't initially included in the planning phase. Fortunately, a small fitness center was included to provide space for a couple pieces of equipment, right before the fitness craze hit. The park district has kept its focus on attracting and maintaining local patrons, keeping membership affordable, and providing and adding top-of-the-line equipment.

The park district's goal is to grow its fitness center membership to 2,500 with the addition of its new space. Strategies to maintain and increase fitness center membership include marketing to corporations and senior citizens, sponsoring free health seminars, and conducting open-houses. The park district also phones existing members at least once a year to see how the park district is meeting their needs and seek ways for improvement.

According to the Burnidge Cassel survey, the vast majority (92%) indicated that they would increase the size of their fitness center if they could. The size of the fitness centers ranged from 800 square feet to 8,000 square feet, with an average 1,600 fitness members using a 3,409-square-foot fitness center. Half (56%) reported facilities constructed since 1991, with just under half (44%) reporting an addition or remodeling. About half (48%) reported, having full-time staff is assigned to the fitness center. Half (52%) indicated that this person had a fitness related degree.

The Channahon Park District, for example, is looking to double the size of its existing fitness center. The park district has plans to design a new park district facility in partnership with the local school district since passing a successful referendum in April. Along with a 2,000-square-foot fitness center, a three-lane elevated jogging track will be incorporated immediately adjacent to the fitness center.

Sue Micklevitz, Channahon's deputy executive director, says: "Our existing fitness center is too small and not able to expand.We've added one to two pieces of new equipment each year for the past several years and can't add any more."

The park district anticipates that its membership will increase after their program space and services are increased and improved.

• Nearly two-thirds of the survey respondents (64%) reported having between 9 and 50 pieces of equipment in their fitness centers with a quarter (24%) having 51 to 100. One survey reported a fitness membership of 3,500 people using 125 pieces of equipment in a 6,300-square-foot fitness center.

• Approximately a third (35%) reported grouping their equipment into smaller pods, which avoids the warehouse look of lines of equipment.

• Strength equipment represents about half (44%) of fitness center equipment. These equipment pieces include chest press, back extension, rotary torso, and abdominal crunch machines.

• Cardiovascular equipment represents over half (56%) of fitness center equipment. These equipment pieces include treadmills, towers, steppers and incumbent cycles.

• Nearly three-quarters (69%) reported that treadmills are the most used cardiovascular equipment.

• Less than a quarter (19%) stated that elliptical trainers are the second most used piece of cardiovascular equipment

• An overwhelming 76% of the respondents stated that they have a free-weight area.

• The average size of the free-weight area is 1,066-square-feet with a range of 100 to 3,300 square feet.

• About half (46%) reported a free-weight area of less than 1,000 square feet, while the other half (54%) reported an area greater than 1,000 square feet.

• Half (5%) stated that they have no visual separation between the free-weight area and the other fitness equipment.

• Most respondents (68%) reported that they have a stretching area. These areas ranged from 40 to 500 square feet.

• Less than half (42%) reported stretching

September/October 2001 35

areas of fewer than 100 square feet.

• One-third noted stretching areas between 100 and 200 square feet, while the remaining one-quarter have areas greater than 200 square feet.

• More than two-thirds (70%) stated that their stretching area is not adequate for their use.

• Slightly less than three-quarters (70%) indicated that their stretching area was cover with carpet, while rubber flooring was the second most popular material.

Audio and video systems.
• An overwhelming majority (84%) noted that they have a sound system. Of those responses, more than half (58%) reported having a centrally controlled system.

• Half (5%) noted they have sound systems that are hard wired, with only 10 percent having wireless PM system and one-third (37%) reported having both hard wired and wireless PM sound systems.

• The majority (96%) reported having a video/TV system.

• Close to a half (46%) have systems that are controlled individually, with one-third (38%) centrally controlled and 16% reporting having both.

• Over three-quarters (80%) indicated having between 1 and 5 units, while 17 percent reported having between 6 and 10 units.

Perks. Here are the results of some perks that you may find interesting. Keep score and see how your fitness center stacks up against others.

• 88% have personal trainers available

• 60% have a card access system

• 76% perform fitness testing

• 80% have a formal training program

• 68% offer towel service


The Morton Grove Park District converted six former racquetbail courts into a 5,400-square-foot fitness center with a two-lane walking track. Administrative offices and other program space were created on the upper level. Photo by Bumidge Cassell Associates.

Visual Stimulation. Almost three-quarters (72%) of the survey responses indicated that their fitness center is visually interesting and stimulating. A closer look at this information revealed that size of membership and space has no correlation to those that answered yes or no. However, everyone that stated their space is not interesting and stimulating also responded that their fitness center does not open onto a running/jogging track. I am not saying that this alone is the answer, but it is definitely a step in the right direction.

One-third (31%) of the surveys reported that their fitness center does open onto a running/jogging track. Some facilities, obviously due to size do not have a running/jogging track to open onto which impacts the accuracy of this information. Conversely, every survey response that indicated that their fitness center opened onto a running/jogging track also indicated that their space was visually interesting and stimulating. You can draw your own conclusions, but for me there is a direct correlation between the two.

Partnerships. Fewer than one-third (27%) stated that they share their fitness center with a partnering agency; half of these partnership are with a health-care provider. One-quarter of those with partnerships reported that their associations were with non-profit groups and other agencies. Over half (57%) of those agencies with partnerships reported that their fitness center space was larger than 6,000 square feet and visually interesting and stimulating. Almost three-quarters (71%) reported their fitness center opens onto a running/jogging track. A partnership doesn't guarantee that you will have all of the above, but it does put you in favorable odds.

Summary Based on the Survey
• Most fitness centers are open seven days a week.

• Fitness center membership is growing.

• Fitness center square footage is increasing.

• Treadmills are the most used cardiovascular equipment.

• Stretching areas generally are too small.

• Audio and sound systems are an integral part of fitness centers.

• Additional user fees are common place.

• Doing more with less through partnerships equals expanded services, a satisfied user and a revenue-generating fitness center

Most professionals and experts in the fitness industry don't believe that the fitness trend is going away any time soon. So, now that you have the information to evaluate if your fitness center is fit, take a look at what you need to improve and get going!

is principal and recreation team leader at Burnidge Cassell and Associates, Inc. Founded in 1968, Burnidge Cassell and Associates, Inc. is a full-service architectural firm specializing in park and recreation design services from planning through construction. Located in Elgin, Illinois, the firm's services include planning studies, architectural design, interior design, landscape architecture and land planning services. For further information, contact Mono 847.695.5840 or

36 Illinois Parks and Recreation

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