Students will be able to exercise in the Health and Wellness Center until 11:30 p.m. starting this fall after the city’s Zoning Commission granted GW approval to extend the facility’s hours last month.
Although the University originally requested to have the center’s hours extended until 1 a.m., the commission ruled on June 14 that it can remain open until 11:30 p.m. every night, a decision opposed by some area residents.
The commission refrained from completely approving GW’s request because some residents voiced concerns that letting the center stay open any later would create more noise in Foggy Bottom.
At the June hearing, zoning officials also approved the University’s request to extend membership to Mount Vernon residents, trustees and President’s Club members. But the commission rejected a plan that would have allowed residents living within 500 feet of the center to exercise there, saying all of the facility’s users must be affiliated with GW.
GW Assistant Athletic Director Tony Vecchione said he believes the extended hours will be especially beneficial to intramural sports teams but that he would have liked to see the center remain open later.
Currently, the center closes at 10 p.m. everyday except Sunday, when it shuts its doors at 8:30 p.m.
“Of course it is going to boost intramural sports, but it would have boosted it more if we had been able to extend the hours until 1 o’clock,” Vecchione said. “Since intramural sports are basically just games, the more time (the gym) is open, the more games teams would be able to play.”
The Foggy Bottom Association was one of the groups opposed to GW’s request to allow the facility to stay open later, arguing that the extension would violate GW’s Campus Plan, which set the center’s hours when it opened in 1998.
“We didn’t want any changes to take place. The University made a commitment to the community and should be held accountable to it,” FBA President Ronald Cocome said. “The problem is that these changes are encouraging bad behavior.”
Although the Zoning Commission did not completely approve GW’s request, the FBA was displeased with the compromise.
“It’s like somebody going in to rob a bank and asking for a million dollars and he only gets $10,000,” Cocome said. “He still gets $10,000 more than he should have. GW always gets more than they should.”
In an interview in May, University Senior Counsel Charles Barber said extending the acility’s hours would be beneficial to students, who often have different schedules from adults.
“The longer hours are certainly requested by the University with students directly in mind because of their nocturnal habits,” he said.
But some residents disagreed, arguing at a May zoning hearing that extending the center’s hours would create more noise. Dorothy Miller serves as chair of the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, an elected body that makes recommendations to the Zoning Commission. She led the opposition to the proposed changes and testified that students should spend their free time studying, not exercising.
“We think it would be a good idea if they study,” Miller said at the May hearing. “They should study harder and play a little less.” In the last few weeks, Miller has refused repeated requests for comment.
Following the commission’s decision, ANC member David Lehrman said the compromise was realistic for both GW and the community.
“I really didn’t see a problem with (the hours) being later, and I don’t think it was a valuable compromise,” he said. “But politics is the art of compromise and sometimes you have to be willing to compromise to get things done.”
Lehrman said the ANC is usually skeptical of changes presented to the board by the University and that he is typically the only pro-GW voter.
“The ANC is an older population that often feels like the good old days were better when GW was a smaller influence on Foggy Bottom,” Lehrman said. “Almost every initiative the University puts forth has been opposed by the ANC.”
This article appeared in the July 6, 2004 issue of the Hatchet.