January is universally recognized as the time to make a fresh start, throw away last year’s used-up calendar and dream up a new set of aspirations for the 12 months ahead. And when it comes to New Year’s resolutions aimed at becoming more active in 2017, Western North Carolina offers a dazzling array of options.
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A 4,000-square-foot, $800,000 expansion that includes a major renovation at the Franklin Health and Fitness Center will be finished in about eight weeks.
“We’re wrapping it up,” said Rodney Morris, the facility’s general manager.
Additions include a new aerobics room, a cardio room with updated equipment, a new women’s locker room, a remodeled and expanded men’s locker room, an enhanced spinning room, an expanded KidsZone, a redesigned service desk and a new entrance with handicap access. There will also be new paint and flooring throughout the center.
Franklin Health and Fitness Center opened at its current location on East Main Street in 1988. Rodney’s father, Dr. Ed Morris, was an original founder and is now sole owner of the center. This is the second — and by far the largest — expansion at the facility.
Morris appeared before Macon County commissioners back in September 2007 at a public hearing on a countywide recreational bond referendum that, if passed, would have built a county recreation center.
Morris told commissioners then that his facility operated on a small profit margin and that any loss of members could result in Franklin Health and Fitness having to close its doors. That bond referendum ultimately failed.
Rodney Morris said that, at this time, he didn’t see a great need for another recreational center in the county and that the majority of voters must have felt the same way.
“If there wasn’t a facility already here, they [commissioners] could have made a better case,” Morris said.
Sean Callahan, owner of Wind River Construction of Franklin — the company doing the expansion — said he got an unusual request from Morris.
“They asked us to slow down a little,” he said. Callahan said the construction was done in phases to ensure members always had access to the facility.
Rodney Morris said that member access and convenience was paramount during construction. “We’re open from 5:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.,” Morris said. “Sean and his crew went above and beyond to help us accommodate our members.”
Callahan said that meant working lots of nights. “All the tile had to be laid at night,” he said. And it meant adding stages to the plan so they could come in after hours when members wouldn’t be there.
Jerry Wright has been a member for the 22 years Franklin Health and Fitness has been in business.
“I helped cut the ribbon,” Wright said.
Wright called the expansion “first class,” and said that members were inconvenienced as little a possible.
“At one time they were thinking they may have to close some to accommodate the construction, but they worked around that. I am very pleased that they didn’t have to shut down,” said Wright.
Wright said he remembers 22 years ago when he heard of plans for a new fitness center in Franklin. “I’m a racquetball player,” Wright said, “and when I heard they were gonna have racquetball courts I went down to sign up. At that time Western Carolina was the closest place to play.”
Wright said he and his family enjoy many of the amenities at Franklin Health and Fitness Center.
“My son takes karate twice a week and the pool is really a fun place for the family,” he said.
Wright said there’s nothing better on a cold winter’s Sunday afternoon than loading the family and heading to the fitness center’s 25-yard heated saltwater pool.
Bernlohr Architects of Annapolis, Md., designed the expansion and remodeling.
“We interviewed several architects but when we talked with Jim [Bernlohr], we knew he was the best fit for us,” said Rodney Morris.
The firm had worked on more than 150 fitness centers across the country
Callahan said the plans were straightforward and the design was good.
“The architects have never had to make a site visit, everything has gone according to plan, “ Callahan said.
And those plans include a passive electric-solar design along with a natural gas backup that’s used to heat the pools and showers. The roofing, which uses light colored, reflective shingles, is LEED-certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and hot water is provided by energy-star certified tank-less hot water heaters.
Morris said the architect, the builder and the sub-contractors were all knowledgeable and comfortable using the latest technology to help create an environmentally friendly environment. Morris said the green building design not only makes sense from an environmental standpoint but that it is also money-saving in the long run.
Rodney Morris said the driving force behind the expansion was meeting needs.
“Our membership is growing, the town of Franklin is growing and people are more health-conscious,” he said.
There are approximately 1,800 current members at Franklin Health and Fitness Center. Morris said the facility employs about 50 people, with seven full-time staff members. The expansion will likely create a few more employment opportunities.
Morris said the center is diligent in finding the best possible employees and instructors.
“We always conduct a series of interviews,” he said “and all of our instructors must present a class for co-workers before they work with members.”
“We look for instructors with experience. And many of our instructors have four-year degrees in their fields,” Morris said.
“All of our instructors must either be certified or obtain certification as a requirement for employment,” he added.
Morris said the new additions and enhancements should nearly double membership capacity at the facility. However, he said there is still room for growth.
“We own three-and-a-half acres here,” Morris said “and we are prepared to meet the needs of our members.”