Center of attention: 3 years later, Fruita recreation center still drawing crowds
Gary Plymesser and Mrs. B are practically neighbors, living in the same subdivision in Mack.
Yet the senior citizens never really knew each other until they began frequenting the Fruita Community Center. Plymesser, 74, and Mrs. B, 79, who didn’t want to reveal her real name, lob playful banter as they meet regularly for pinochle games at 10 a.m. on Tuesdays and Fridays.
“I call him poobah because he calls all the shots,” Mrs. B quips over the card table to Plymesser.
“I’d play 24 hours a day if somebody would play with me,” he fires back.
Theirs is just one of the stories of people finding community through a community center.
Often called by its acronym, FCC, the facility at 324 Coulson St. is entering its fourth year. Over time, the stories of users — who literally range in age from 1 to 99 — have started to layer.
There’s the one about members of a low-impact aerobics class who gather for monthly lunches. Another involves a mother from Gunnison who visits her mother on Orchard Mesa and makes a point of visiting the Fruita pool with her children. Other patrons report losing oodles of pounds and finding motivation to live healthier lives. More students than ever are taking advantage of the sports camps on school breaks and after-school activities. Patrons continue to seek out the Mesa County library branch in the center.
“That’s kind of what we foster here,” said Angela Ash, fitness and guest services supervisor. “People come back not just for the workout, but because they would miss the camaraderie.”
FUNDING, NUMBERS, FRESH IDEAS
In 2008, it wasn’t a shoo-in to persuade Fruita residents they needed a $13.7 million recreation center, with an indoor and outdoor pool, anchored by the library and a senior center. Voters initially deadlocked on, then narrowly approved, a sales-tax increase to build and operate the 55,000-square-foot recreation center.
Yet since the doors opened in late January 2011, customers have not stopped flooding in and revenue continues to exceed expectations.
The center put aside a $149,000 surplus last year and $260,000 in extra funds in 2012. User fees provide 85 percent of costs to run the facility. Last year’s expenses were $1.8 million, said Rob Cook, facility manager. Surplus funds are saved for future capital improvements, such as the installation of a water slide that begins at the inside pool, heads through the wall and dumps swimmers in the outside pool.
Officials believed they would meet the 500,000-customer mark by early January, but even that milestone was trumped. That half-a-million customer mark was met at about noon last Monday. In general, the center expects 110,000 visits a year, but those numbers have consistently run about 167,000 guests a year. Revenue continues to rise as the facility becomes more popular. For example, when the center opened, it hosted 600 swim lessons a year. In 2013, it completed 1,300 swim lessons.
“We rock the swim lessons,” Cook said.
To keep things fresh, community center officials plug in activities to meet needs, such as a basketball camp during the two-week winter break for District 51 students. They provide recreational teams for students who want to be more competitive in sports but don’t make school teams. They’ve launched a guest speaker series. A class called CancerFit, a wellness class, is directed to those affected by cancer. Seniors can choose from a host of activities; one of the more creative ones is this weekend’s overnight adventure to Glenwood Springs for a vaudeville show and a soak in the Hot Springs Pool.
What the center doesn’t do is offer classes like Zumba and Insanity, which would be in direct competition with the independently owned Fruita Health Club, 158 S. Park Square, community center officials said.
When it opened in early 2011, the Fruita Health Club immediately lost 500 memberships, a number which the downtown gym never recouped, co-owner Brooke Ray said.
“It was really rough in the beginning, we should have just closed our doors then,” she said. “Even though it’s been three years, unfortunately, we’re still not breaking even.”
Ray said she understands that if a family only has enough money to buy one membership, they’ll do it for their child to be able to use the center, which comes with pool access.
“We can’t compete with that,” she said.
LOCALLY POPULAR, WITH A LONG REACH
Most of the success of the center can be attributed to high rates of visitors to Fruita, a city with a population of nearly 12,700, as reported in 2012. A community survey last year indicated that 85 percent of those who answered the questions had visited the center.
“I’m thrilled that that many people have come in and visited our facility,” said Ture Nycum, director of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. “I would like to have 100 percent of them.”
Possibly because there’s nothing quite like Fruita’s all-encompassing recreation center in nearby Grand Junction, the largest growing demographic of users is from outside of Fruita city limits. Fifty percent, or 25,000, of annual daily admission users are from outside Fruita.
Two of those examples include good friends Joni Blanton, 65, and Betty Bartoszek, 85, both of whom live in Grand Junction.
“I’m more than willing to drive there,” Blanton said. “The drive is absolutely nothing, it doesn’t concern us. I would love to see Grand Junction get something like this. Thank God we have that one in Fruita. It’s close enough.”
Blanton has been taking aquatics classes and a low-impact aerobics class at Fruita Community Center for a year and a half. She spends three and a half hours at the center, three times a week. The workouts help alleviate aches associated with arthritis and neck pain, she said.
“They’ve got a wonderful hot tub. It’s the icing on the cake,” Blanton enthused.
Blanton said she and Bartoszek once attempted to use the pool at Colorado Mesa University. However, after seeing “all of those teenage girls with all of those little bodies” they determined that pool wasn’t for them.
“We went over to Fruita. They have people of all shapes and sizes,” she said. “All I can say is if someone has never been there, they should go and see.”
If it hasn’t already, the word is getting out.
Cori Woytek of Gunnison always visits Fruita Community Center when in town visiting her mother. Woytek’s mother lives on Orchard Mesa and the family, including 4-year-old Asher and 1-year-old Gabe, could just pop over to Grand Junction’s Orchard Mesa Community Pool. The family prefers the kids’ area at the center. The indoor pool has something for everyone: a shallow section with interactive toys for small children, a lazy river, a water tube, an area dedicated to lap lanes and a generous hot tub incorporated into the middle of the pool.
Fruita resident Mary Blackburn got the news three years ago that she was pre-diabetic, overweight and, in general, not feeling well.
She started attending the center when the facility opened, and now has dropped four dress sizes. She is no longer at risk for developing diabetes.
“I’ll tell you what, it’s been a life-saver for me. Three years ago I was not in good health,” Blackburn said. “It doesn’t matter how old you are, you can still get fit.”
More than that, Blackburn enjoys the friendships she’s developed. When she first joined, she signed up for aquatics classes to build up confidence to take other aerobics classes. She “had a blast” when she recently took a hip-hop class, mingling with much younger patrons.
These days, outside of the gym, she meets with others in her class for regular lunches.
“If something happens and I can’t go to class, I miss those gals,” Blackburn said. “That rec center is a part of my life.”
The library branch and senior center continue to report healthy numbers as well. In 2011, 6,268 seniors participated in all activities, including Gray Gourmet meals and a Thursday potluck. The following year, 6,709 seniors took advantage of all services. Numbers for 2013 aren’t yet available.
Library usage continues to show stellar numbers since the branch opened there. More than 100,000 patrons visit each year, said Bob Kretschman, spokesman for Mesa County Libraries.
“That is way more people than when the library was in its previous location,” he said. “The library attracts people to the community center and the community center attracts people to the library.”