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Solon school offers fitness for all

Physical education teacher Marcus Besonen, right, leads a lifetime fitness class for juniors, left to right, Morgan Anderson, Alex Hunter, Aaron Jeter and Christian Sellwood, in the new fitness center at Solon Springs School Jan. 23. The center, located in a former elementary classroom, will soon open its doors to community members. Maria Lockwood

The new fitness center at Solon Springs School is poised to open its doors to the public.

"Our PE classes and our teams have been using it since mid-December," Athletic Director Nate Ahlberg said.

The former elementary classroom now holds thousands of dollars of new and refurbished equipment, from a wall unit and kettlebells to a treadmill, recumbent bike and rowing machine.

"It is fantastic, especially with what we had a year ago at this time," said Ahlberg, who also teaches sixth grade.

The Solon Springs School Board voted Jan. 22 to open the space to community members as soon as a key fob lock is installed.

"One of the goals that the district created after the overwhelming support shown by the 2016 referendum was to increase the use by the community of school facilities," said Solon Springs Superintendent Frank Helquist.

Voters in 2016 approved a recurring referendum to provide the district with an additional $500,000 annually to cover operational costs.

Under the parameters approved by the board, a $20 fee will be charged for participants. They will receive a key fob to access the room during fitness center hours, 6-8 a.m. and 6-10 p.m. daily. Participants must sign a waiver and receive training on the proper use of equipment before they can use the center.

"We're doing a limited rollout to just see how things are going to progress and what issues come up," Ahlberg said.

Once they gather more information on how the center's being used, he said, they can decide whether to increase or maintain the community access hours.

A January 2017 civil rights audit coupled with community support led to the creation of the new fitness center. The school's weight room, situated down a narrow flight of stairs in the former boys' locker room, was not handicap accessible. Following the audit, which dug deep into all areas of equality, the district was given a year to address the issue.

"This was perfect timing because there had been ongoing conversations about the need for a better center, and one with community access," Helquist said.

A September golf scramble sponsored by Mertz-Rookey Insurance made it a reality. The annual fundraiser for the school's athletic program, coupled with matching funds, netted nearly $19,000 for the fitness center. That's nearly double the amount the event raised for the school in 2016.

"When you can tell the community members that this is what we're raising money for, they know what the need is, people tend to step up better," Ahlberg said.

The Solon Springs High School Class of 2017 donated its remaining activity fund balance of $1,000 to install flooring in the room. Equipment for the center arrived Dec. 11.

"I'm pretty shocked that we were able to get this in 11 months time," Ahlberg said. "I was skeptical we would be able to pull it off and here we are."

The lifetime fitness class met last week in the new center. Alumnus Ryan Anderson, 19, was there, lifting weights while on college break.

"We talked about this when I was in high school," he said.

Ahlberg said over the last couple of years, many students have been determined to get in better shape, but they balked at using the old weight room.

"They had the desire to do it, but the facility kind of held them back," the athletic director said.

Athletes weren't the only ones seeking a new place to work out.

"The No. 1 question I get asked out in the community is, 'When will the fitness center be open so we can use it?'" Helquist said.

There are no residency requirements to use the center, and the only cost is the $20 for a key fob.

"Our community has really supported this project," Ahlberg said, and the wing it's in was added because of a voter-supported referendum.

"We just want be able to offset a little bit of our cost of the facility and give people a place that they can come and work out," he said.

This is just phase one. Helquist said the Fitness Center Committee will be seeking corporate donations to expand the facility.

"Our ultimate goal is to have one room devoted just to weights and another room for cardio," Ahlberg said, but, "We're really happy to have this."

The liability form and rules are available at the school office, 8993 E. Baldwin Ave. The key fob lock should be installed by March 1, according to Ahlberg. For more information, call (715) 378-2263 and ask for Ahlberg.