Leonard Center open to wider community, for a fee

By Caitlin Opperman

It’s “athlete hours” at the Leonard Center. Entering the weight room in the late afternoon, one can get lost in the hustle and bustle of beeping treadmills, clanging iron and flying medicine balls. What many Macalester students don’t know is that from approximately 6 to 10:00 a.m. every weekday exist different “hours” – community hours.Community access to Macalester’s athletic facilities is nothing new. Though the old facility lacked a real fitness center, it was open to the public for a minimal price. When the Leonard Center opened in 2008 with the primary purpose of serving the campus community, residents of the Mac-Groveland neighborhood still expressed interest in using the new facility.

Macalester’s response, however, was a bit more hesitant than before.

“Our stock answer had been ‘we have to wait and see and look at the demand,'” Laurie Hamre, vice president for student affairs, said.

Thus, the college made a decision to wait to sell community memberships for one year, a choice that received a lot of pushback, according to Athletic Director Kim Chandler. During this time, athletics staff evaluated usage patterns of students, faculty, staff, and alumni.

“We found that during peak times of the year we have over 800 users per day,” Jarrett Yehlen, Assistant Director of athletic facilities, said. “During the first week of school that number goes up to about 1000. On weekends, we see 200 to 400 users per day.”

Considering these trends, Chandler, Hamre, and Tom Welna, director of the Macalester High Winds Fund, the college’s community outreach group, sat down to draft community membership policies.

A maximum offering of 100 memberships for neighbors living in a two to three-block radius of campus was the consensus. High Winds sent letters to eligible neighbors and the Leonard Center organized registration nights complete with guided tours. In this first year, the Leonard Center has 92 members from the surrounding community, three-fourths of whom use the facility on a regular basis, estimates Hamre.

Community members, like alumni, pay $240 for a one-year membership that corresponds to the college fiscal calendar, June 1 through May 31. Half-year memberships are also available Dec. 1 through May 31 and can be purchased through February.

“Neighbors who were with us during the construction are now seeing some benefits,” Ron Osterman, equipment and facility manager at the Leonard Center, said. “And the rates are pretty reasonable.”

There are restrictions to the community membership, however. Those members may only work out at the designated morning time during the school year but have open use during academic breaks and summer. They also do not have access to lockers or the opportunity to take fitness classes.

“Some of the people who were most vocal about wanting memberships had to evaluate what they wanted after learning of these restrictions,” Hamre said.

Yehlen says that the community seems pretty satisfied, however. He gets approximately one call per week about membership but feels that other fitness opportunities in the area satisfy that need.

Leonard Center membership opportunities also exist for employees and alumni. Employees receive membership for themselves and one other person for free, while alumni have the choice to purchase summer, half-year, and annual memberships, ranging from $75 to $240. Students also receive one free year of membership after graduation. Anyone can purchase a daily guest pass for $10 as long as they are with a member.

“I think that the people who work there are very helpful,” anthropology professor Ron Barrett said. “I tend to work out in the afternoons though less lately because of the sports teams, but I’ll bring my girls and we’ll dance around in the studio.”

Despite positive feedback, there are no set plans to reevaluate membership structure in the future.

“We’re certainly not in the membership business to generate income,” Osterman said, though membership revenue is being directed toward facility upkeep. He also finds it difficult to accommodate month to month memberships because of the Leonard Center’s usage patterns.

Nevertheless, community interest is still high. Phone calls from community members hoping to rent space in the facility are frequent.

“Our summer camps and conference business has increased since the building of this facility,” Hamre said.

But many outside requests are also denied.

“There was never any intention for the Leonard Center to take the place of Lifetime Fitness. The intentions of the building were always directed toward the campus community,” Chandler said. “I think our students, faculty, and staff really value that the Leonard Center is here for them.