Students contend with gym fees, limited access to exercise facilities during Lerner’s closure

Media Credit: Rachel Schwartz | Assistant Photo Editor

The student center workout space provides access to equipment like rowing machines, upright bikes, free weights and training balls and is open seven days a week from 7 a.m. to midnight.

On the third floor of the University Student Center, eight exercise bikes, two rowing machines, two benches and various medicine balls and barbells scatter an otherwise-barren conference room.

The makeshift gym is the new physical fitness space on the Foggy Bottom Campus, open seven days a week from 7 a.m. to midnight as the Lerner Health and Wellness Center enters its fourth month of renovations. Until Lerner’s targeted mid-fall reopening, the third-floor room in the student center and the West Hall gym on the Mount Vernon campus remain the only options for free gym access at GW.

“I was very, very unimpressed with the space,” sophomore Cameron Mays said about using the student center workout space. “And really, it didn’t allow me to do what I usually do, especially in Lerner.”

Lerner closed its doors in early May to update its HVAC system, upgrade equipment and redesign the building’s layout, and officials are offering alternative exercise spaces in the University Student Center and West Hall until the building reopens to students later this semester. More than 10 students said they are looking past GW’s scant fitness offerings to join off-campus gyms, play sports with friends and run outdoors.

Mays, who studies political science and economics, said he’s worked out in the student center about five times since August and was surprised to see how “underequipped” the space was, especially the lifting equipment that he typically uses. The student center workout room currently includes barbells but not dumbbells.

“I think it’s unfortunately forced a lot of people to go to off-campus gyms and to spend more of their money that way,” Mays said.

Mays said he relied on affordable alternatives, like running outside and playing basketball at a court in Georgetown, to avoid additional gym fees off campus. He said he looked into local gym memberships that the Lerner website recommends, but he was disappointed to see membership prices reach as high as $199 per month and modest student discounts varying by gym.

Students can display a school ID at gyms like Orangetheory Fitness, Soul Cycle and Washington Sports Club for a student discount at those gyms. Lerner also promotes the Active & Fit program, which grants access to 7,500 partnered gyms for $29 per month plus a two-month minimum, an enrollment fee and taxes.

“I think what really made me the most upset was the campus recreation site recommending and advising people to pay more money,” Mays said. “They’re like, ‘Oh, you can just get this special discount,’ but it’s like, why are you telling me to do this?”

Andre Julien – the senior associate athletic director of recreation, wellness and club sports – said to replace Lerner’s facilities, campus recreation staff drew maps of walking and running routes to replace treadmill cardio, decided to keep the Mount Vernon Campus pool open on weekends until Oct. 2 and created group fitness classes in the District House dance studio.

“The GW campus recreation team continues to provide for our students’ physical well-being needs while the Lerner Health and Wellness Center is temporarily closed this fall,” Julien said in an email. “Since we cannot host students inside the building while work is being performed, physical well-being opportunities in other locations both on and off campus are being offered until the building reopens.”

Julien said the University offering discounted memberships at local gyms has allowed students to partake in specialized exercise offerings like spin classes if the on-campus offerings haven’t appealed to them.

Piper Macke, a junior studying data science and a member of the GW women’s basketball team, said exercising at Lerner was crucial for her to strengthen her skills off the court. She said she would regularly utilize Lerner’s weightlifting rooms before its hiatus, but now she has started paying for a Gold’s Gym membership to stay active because of Lerner’s closure.

“I really like to just have something that I do that’s completely outside of basketball and isn’t always about getting better in my sport,” Macke said. “I like to have something just for me, and if I have to pay 15 extra dollars a month for a few months before Lerner is opened again, I’m willing to do so.”

Macke said driving to the Gold’s Gym in Rosslyn, Virginia has added an extra “hassle” in allotting time to work out alongside classes, practice and other commitments. She said she has had to skip workouts if traffic was too heavy or if she didn’t have time in her schedule to make the commute.

“I really wish that there were some other discounts or even anything that was just in walking distance because I looked really hard when I heard it was going to be closed all summer for some kind of gym within walking distance,” Macke said.

Senior Kate Carpenter, who studies political communication, said she has started attending CorePower Yoga’s Georgetown, Dupont Circle and Adams Morgan locations since Lerner’s closure while receiving a 10 percent student discount and an additional 50 percent off for helping clean yoga mats and other equipment after her classes. CorePower Yoga charges $15 if members cancel their class reservation after the deadline, a charge Carpenter said has been a burdensome expense.

Carpenter said she likes to keep in mind that future GW classes will benefit from the renovations officials are working on in Lerner.

“I think to the future, and I’d rather the students in the future be able to experience a one-of-a-kind gym, and so that means we have to miss out for four months,” Carpenter said. “But the costs that I’ve endured are very hefty, and do weigh on me.”

Carpenter said Lerner’s closure inspired her to start an intramural pickleball league where she meets daily to play with friends at the Federal Reserve tennis court near campus and organizes monthly tournaments.

“I do feel like there are definitely ways to stay active,” Carpenter said. “I don’t know if they’re super cost efficient. I have not found one that is, unless I’m running outside in 98 degrees.”

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