A three-year journey to reinvent a community recreation center in the city of Tonawanda will conclude this week when the facility reopens to the public with upgraded pools and gyms.
The City of Tonawanda Aquatic and Fitness Center, which a city official says loses about $600,000 a year, begins a new chapter at 5 a.m. Tuesday after a month-long hiatus to complete the improvements the city hopes will position AFC as a desirable alternative to nearby gym chains.
“There will be a better atmosphere to attract young people and families,” said Carl Szarek, Tonawanda City Council member and chair of the Department of Youth, Parks and Recreation committee that spearheaded the revamp.
The facility’s footprint has been expanded by a third, Szarek said Saturday, and the gym’s locker rooms have been demolished, walls removed and exercise equipment spaced out to create a more open concept. Szarek said members appreciated more space when the AFC reopened its gymnasium in June 2021 after more than a year of closure.
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Turf was installed as a softer surface to support a variety of workouts in the gym and aging cardio machines were replaced. Szarek said the workout area now has 10 treadmills and single-occupancy gender-neutral restrooms.
Szarek said the city council approved $240,000 for the AFC rehabilitation project and his team was able to cut costs by outsourcing the work to the Youth, Parks and Recreation Department instead of paying a entrepreneur. “Audiences love it because they see our people doing the work,” Szarek said.
The 30-year-old center is showing its age and has been losing hundreds of thousands of dollars a year amid fierce competition with private gyms in the area.
Responding in 2020 to dwindling membership, outdated equipment and extensive closure due to Covid-19, Bill Conrad, then President of Youth, Parks and Recreation, solicited community input during public meetings. When Conrad was elected to the state assembly at the end of that year, Szarek and Mark Campanella Sr. took on the project at Sheridan Drive and Delaware Road – and enlisted the help of an outside appraiser .
They took the results of an analysis from Power Wellness, an Illinois-based business consultant, to develop a three-pronged operations plan with wellness, family and outdoor aspects. For wellness, the city has hired a nutritionist to serve the AFC, and Szarek said meetings are scheduled this week with local hospitals to consider possible patient rehabilitation partnerships. Power’s overall philosophy is similar to that of a medical fitness center.
To appeal to families, Szarek said a room has been designated for children’s birthday parties or business meeting rentals, while family programming will be increased on weekends – to respond to another review of Power’s valuation last year. The Ken-Ton School District also offered memberships to its employees, Szarek said.
Plans are underway for a second phase to spruce up the outdoor area around the AFC, Szarek added. He expects state money to help the city build a bandstand, performance stage and pavilion for holiday rentals to create more of a “public square setting,” he said. the council member.
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The facility’s “crown jewel” remains the Aquatics Center, a $4 million government-funded project that aided Western New York’s bid for the 1993 World University Games. Its Olympic-sized swimming pool is remained popular with the area’s older community and competitive youth swim groups, although it has fallen into slight disrepair. The pool side of the AFC opened just five months into the pandemic, a much shorter span than the gymnasium was closed.
Amenities like water bikes and an inflatable obstacle course for kids were added last year to expand water-related activities.
“It’s one of the best pools in Western New York,” Szarek said. “We are lucky in Tonawanda to have something like this.”
Admission to the AFC will be free for the first two weeks, Szarek said. More information can be found by clicking “aquatic and fitness center” under the Youth, Parks and Recreation tab on tonawanda.ny.us.
Ben Tsujimoto can be reached at [email protected], (716) 849-6927 or on Twitter at @Tsuj10.