A fitness and wellness center operated by the Columbus Parks and Recreation Department could open in NexusPark as early as March.
Parks officials gave a private tour of the space formerly occupied by the J.C. Penney store that is being transformed into the Analytical Engineering, Inc. (AEI) Fitness Center.
Considered a market leader in engine and engine component development since 1994, AEI has donated $250,000 toward the development of the center.
AEI president Angie May said she believes the facility will make a difference in people’s lives. The company made the donation because they wanted to help create a positive impact for people who represent a variety of ages and abilities, May said.
Initially, the AEI Fitness Center will occupy about 8,000 square feet south of what had been FairOaks Mall’s center court. However, the parks department’s associate director of recreation, Nikki Murphy, says an additional 6,000 square feet north of the center will eventually be used for an expansion.
But for now, the parks want to move ahead cautiously.
“For the first phase, we wanted to make sure we could do something that feasible and doable for our goals,” Murphy said. “We already know we’re going to grow. We know the demand is going to be there.”
For example, the facility is going to need plenty of open space for group fitness classes such as aerobic exercises and yoga, Murphy said. But the parks staff wants to see how much room the fitness equipment takes up before deciding how best to utilize the additional 6,000 square feet, she said.
The facility will represent a new model for fitness, according to Jordan Bunch, who serves as fitness, health and wellness manager for the city parks.
In most fitness centers, people pay to have access to the equipment and either try things on their own or sign up for some degree of personal training, Bunch said.
But at the new facility, the focus will be on small group functioning training for adults, as well as personal training with a functional training aspect.
“That means whatever you do here with us, we want to make sure it benefits you (in your everyday life),” Bunch said. “Whether that means sitting at your desk without lower back pain, going on a hike, walking your dog or push mowing your yard, we want it to work for you.”
The goal is to set up a safe and effective workout with a coach geared toward each person’s individual needs, he said.
One thing in demand that is currently not offered in Columbus is sports performance training, Bunch said.
“Right now, if a kid 11- to 13-years-old wants any type of sports performance training, no matter the sport, they have to go outside our community,” Bunch said. “We want to bring that here, and get them set up for success once they get to high school.”
However, children below a certain age will only be allowed in the facility if they are signed up for a particular class with a coach, he said.
On the flip side, the AEI Fitness Center will also offer classes for individuals with disabilities overseen by a professional, Bunch said.
Unique features include a teaching kitchen where individuals can learn healthy eating habits. and a child watch area where young kids can be dropped off for up to two-hours while a parent works out, Bunch said.
One reason why the facility will be unique is that there are already a number of traditional workout facilities in Columbus, he said.
“The last thing (the city) wanted to do was step on the toes of local business owners,” Bunch said. “But we wanted to provide value to the community, as well as have a real impact on the residents.”
In terms of affordability, the city wants admission costs to be equitable, Murphy said. At this time, her department is attempting to put structures in place that will allow sponsorships, scholarships, and sliding fee scales.
While the Columbus Parks and Recreation Department is shooting for an early March opening, there are no guarantees. Since her department is relocating their administrative offices from Donner Center to NexusPark, “all operations will have to come online before we can open the doors,” she said.