East Alabama Medical Center’s HealthPlus Fitness Center will be moving to a storefront at the Auburn Mall this spring.
“We have secured a storefront facility at the Auburn Mall that has about 4,600 square feet and we plan to reopen there on March 2, 2020,” said a letter, written by Laura Grill, president and CEO in December. “We feel that this is a more appropriate size.”
The move was prompted by a decline in membership that can be traced back to the 2008 economic recession, according to the letter.
The new storefront location will keep the cardiovascular and strength equipment.
One notable loss, however, is the heated salt-water pool at the current location.
“We understand that the hospital has the right to close this facility, we understand that you don’t control whether or not they control this facility,” said Robert Brennan, one of the residents. “That’s obvious. I don’t think everyone was aware that this is the only indoor, large, heated pool to 85 degrees in the city of Auburn.”
The lack of a pool at the new location has prompted many current members to seek a solution. Several approached Auburn City Council at the Jan. 7 meeting to express concern over the lack of heated salt-water pools in the area.
“It’s been suggested to us that, while it’s closed, just run over to Opelika. While it’s closed, just go over to Auburn University community pool. Neither one is kept at 85 degrees,” Brennan said.
The heated salt-water pool is used for therapy by many members, especially aging members, of the HealthPlus facility.
“I think there’s an easy solution that maybe (has) been overlooked,” Brennan said. “Why don’t we have the city of Auburn lease the pool area only from the hospital and then Auburn does a lease that’s perhaps month by month. So if you hit an extraordinary expense, you cancel the lease. So you’re not going to get hung with anything unusual.”
The second part of the solution Brennan proposed was that Auburn’s Parks and Recreation department get started on a similar pool facility for the city of Auburn.
“We don’t want to drive to Opelika, we would rather stay right here in Auburn,” Brennan said.
Steven Dixon, Ward 5, asked the council what the possibility was of inquiring to lease the pool from EAMC.
“I’ve understood that (EAMC has) made plans,” said Mayor Ron Anders. “But that doesn’t mean that we can’t ask them to stop those plans and rethink what they’re wanting to do.”
City Manager Jim Buston addressed concerns for lack of a pool in the city of Auburn and informed residents that the city does plan to build a pool at the Boykin Community Center.
“We intend to fast track that as soon as we can find some land, and we are actively looking,” Buston said.
Anders said that when Auburn constructed its five year Parks and Recreation master plan, management, and residents, did so knowing that HealthPlus was open.
“We made a priority list, a five-year plan, that we’ve committed $40 million of the taxpayers’ money to improve the Parks and Rec facilities of our community,” Anders said.
“I would have to believe when all those determinations and thoughts were going forth that HealthPlus was sitting there, something that was a known entity to us.”
Now that HealthPlus is closing its pool, the circumstances have changed, he said.
The city of Auburn did reach out to EAMC after Tuesday’s council meeting and had a discussion about options, Buston said.
HealthPlus will be turned into office space for primary care physicians, he said.
“That’s a great thing for us because in our area, in the Lee County area, we do not have enough primary care physicians,” Buston said.
To lease the pool area, Buston said, renovations such as potentially replacing the boiler would need to be done. Additionally, the bathrooms would likely be taken out or placed out of commission due to the construction.
“We had a long conversation. As we ended it, they are going to provide us some information on what it costs them to run the facility, how many people they have using the facility, that type of thing,” he said.
EAMC does plan to send its HealthPlus members to the Opelika pool at the Sportsplex. Although residents raised concerns about this at the council meeting, a physical therapist who sat in on the EAMC meeting said the pool temperature was not a concern.
The difference in temperature is only a few degrees, which isn’t a problem for therapy use, Buston said, according to the therapist.
Officials at EAMC were not available for comment.