Lerner Health and Wellness Center may open to locals

A local governing body approved a University proposal to allow 300 alumni and local residents to use the Lerner Health and Wellness Center.

University officials said at an Oct. 17 meeting of the Advisory Neighborhood Commission they wanted to offer gym membership to 250 alumni in the Foggy Bottom area and 50 to local neighbors.

The proposed expanded membership still needs to be approved by the D.C. Zoning Commission before it can be enacted. Several GW alumni criticized the consequences of the proposal.

Cynthia Jachles, a GW alumna, said she was frustrated to not have access to her alma mater’s athletics facilities.

“It’s very important to me,” Jachles said. “I have not had the ability to use a real organized facility in five years. I find it just logical that I should be able to go across the street and swim.”

Jachles was one of three alumni who spoke about their desire to use the University gym.

The Lerner Health and Wellness Center was constructed in 1999, and the D.C. Zoning Commission restricted access to the gym to current students, faculty and staff. The University is now trying to have the initial zoning agreement amended.

The 50 passes being offered to neighbors adjacent to the Lerner building are part of a promise the University made in 1999, said Michael Akin, director of Community Relations. If the Zoning Commission allows the amendment to their initial order, residents of St. Mary’s Court, The Remington apartments and St. Mary’s Episcopal Church will all be able to use the five-level facility for free.

Akin said the membership proposal would not only benefit neighbors but also give alumni an incentive to stay in the area after graduation.

“We’re living up to a commitment we made almost a decade ago, and that’s something I take very seriously and something I believe the University takes very seriously,” Akin said.

GW is one of the few universities in D.C. that does not offer alumni memberships at its campus gym. American, Georgetown and Trinity universities all sell gym memberships to alumni for a small fee. Georgetown and Trinity both allow non-university neighbors to buy annual memberships as well.

Margaret Pully, the associate director of St. Mary’s Court, an apartment building for seniors, said her residents need access so they can exercise.

“My seniors can’t afford any of the other health clubs,” Pully added.

The ANC voted almost unanimously in support of expanding membership. Commissioner Eric Malenin was the only member of the five-member commission who voted against the motion. Malenin claimed offering discount gym memberships to alumni – free for neighbors – would present unfair competition to local health clubs.

Dorothy Miller, a former member of the commission, criticized the proposal as part of GW’s larger “commercialization.” Other critics said the proposal would bring additional traffic into the area.

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