The Health and Wellness Center is nearing completion despite delays that will cause it to open in mid-June, according to athletic department officials. When the building does begin operations, though, many students and others in the Foggy Bottom community may be surprised to learn of the implications of two zoning restrictions placed on the facility by the D.C. government that impede the way the building will be used.
The first restriction constrains the building’s hours between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. so that students cannot enter early in the morning or late at night. These hours could cut into prime workout time for many busy students. The second restriction prohibits use of the facility by neighborhood residents. Unlike the Smith Center, the building will only be available for use by GW faculty, students and staff. These stipulations alter the way the GW community will use the new facility and should be reconsidered to accommodate students and the Foggy Bottom community.
The restrictions on the Health and Wellness Center stem from lobbying by groups seeking to lighten the impact of the building on residents near the property. Concerns included extra traffic on and around the lot, which once played host to townhouses. Those houses are gone now, as are most of the houses in the lot across G Street. The only residents adjacent to the building are those in St. Mary’s Court, a high-rise retirement home. No varsity athletic events will be held at the building, so arguments that noise and traffic would be excessive do not make sense. For instance, on a typical night, the area around the Smith Center is as quiet and traffic is as light as on any other city block in this area.
With many students committed to work, school and any number of other activities, early mornings and late evenings are often the only times they have to use fitness facilities. The paramount consideration of the government and the University should be the effect their decisions have on all Foggy Bottom residents including the 17,000 or more GW students who are eligible to use and must pay for the new facility.
The proper remedy would be for the University to welcome Foggy Bottom residents to the Health and Wellness Center – provided the facility does not become overcrowded as a result – while those residents support adjusting the building’s hours of operation. Currently the Smith Center is open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 12:30 a.m. Perhaps this arrangement is a good place to start.