GW looks to extend Health and Wellness Center hours

GW will continue to push for extended Health and Wellness Center hours after city officials postponed a decision Thursday whether to allow the facility to stay open later.

D.C. Zoning Commission Vice Chair Anthony Hood said officials “need more information to make an informed decision” on GW’s proposal to allow the center to stay open until 1 a.m. every night except Saturday, when it would close at 11 p.m. Currently, the building closes at 10 p.m. Monday to Saturday and 8 p.m. Sunday.

The city has also delayed a decision on GW’s request to allow community members living within 500 feet of 22nd and G streets and alumni to access the facility.

The commission asked the University to provide more information about how the proposed membership offers and increased hours would affect the facility. If the commission approves GW’s request at its April hearing, the changes could take place as early as the fall.

“We have no problem providing them with the information they requested, but we are disappointed that the case will continue to drag since it has been pending for a while,” said University Senior Counsel Charles Barber in a phone interview Friday. “We are confident that at the end of the day we will be able to convince the commission that these modifications will not have an adverse impact on the community.”

Some Foggy Bottom residents expressed misgivings about the proposed changes at an Advisory Neighborhood Commission meeting Wednesday night. They said the modifications would result in excessive noise and parking difficulties.

“I’ve written a letter to (the city) and asked that they not extend the hours and membership of the Health and Wellness Center,” ANC member Dorothy Miller said at Wednesday’s meeting.

“There are a lot of people within 500 feet of the facility,” Miller added. “We have enough to do without policing what GW does.”

The ANC is a five-member group that serves as an advisory board to the D.C. government.

Barber said students would benefit from the extended hours and would not disrupt the neighborhood.

“Students stay up late, and they need constructive outlets at night,” Barber said. “From our experience, students are pretty much exhausted when they leave the gym, so they won’t make much noise.”

“We don’t think that our request would impact the traffic situation because of the people we are seeking to allow access, and that’s what we’ve presented to the Zoning Commission,” he continued.

Some students said extending the gym’s hours would probably allow them to exercise there more frequently.

“Closing at 10 p.m. is way too early since a lot of the students on campus don’t go to bed until at least 1 a.m.,” freshman Katie Harter said. “We can focus more on studying during the day and then be able to go to the gym later.”

Last year, the city denied a similar request to extend the Health and Wellness Center’s hours partly because the University refused to comply with its campus plan. But Barber noted that because a District court gave GW until 2006 to meet the plan’s housing requirements, the road is clear for the city to extend the gym’s hours.

Although the number of people who would receive membership to the center was ambiguous last year, Barber said the University has effectively pinpointed who will be allowed to use the facility with the 500-foot requirement.

“We narrowed it down to a much smaller group of people, including … residents within 500 feet of the facility and about 200 people who are a part of the President’s Club, who are supporters of the University,” he said.

Zoning Commission Chairman Carol Mitten agreed that GW has made some positive changes to the plan, increasing the likelihood that the commission will approve the later hours.

“It was open-ended at first about the number of people the University would allow membership to,” Mitten said at Thursday’s hearing. “Now it is more narrowed down, and if we could have more specific information about the users of the facility, it could help us make a decision.”

Mitten added that since the center has been operating for a few years, the commission would get a better idea of how many people use the facility.

When the Board of Zoning Adjustment approved construction of the center in 1998, it was stipulated that the facility could be open no later than 10 p.m. and could be accessible only to GW students, faculty and staff.

“One of the issues that was of concern (at the first hearing) was that the Wellness Center had not been operating for very long,” Mitten said. “It is now 18 months later, which is more time over which to determine how the facility is being utilized.”

Mary Jo Warner, senior associate director of athletics and recreation, said the center is sometimes underutilized, which she said could be remedied by increasing its clientele. However, students began signing up for cardiovascular machines at the start of the semester because of increased wait times.

“During the non-peak hours,” said Warner, “it would be great to allow other people membership.”

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