An oasis in the wintertime
The Detroit Lakes Community Center was a bustling place Saturday morning -- the fieldhouse was divided by a curtain and filled with grade school boys and girls playing "Hot Hands" basketball, their parents watching from the sidelines.
The pool was full of swim and dive team members (and spectators) from five high schools, and the Zumba class looked to have about 40 people dancing to Latin music.
The track, aerobic exercise machines and weight equipment were all busy.
You might think January is the busiest time for the community center, and you'd be right.
"January and February are super high-use months," said CEO Stuart Omberg.
But summers are not the slowest time of the year either.
"People think it must be really slow in the summer," Omberg said. "It's not -- because the snowbirds are back, and the Fargo-Moorhead people are here. The only really slow time of the year we have now is September."
That's when the kids go back to school and it hasn't gotten cold enough yet to draw people back inside, he said.
There used to be quiet times during the day at the community center, even in the winter, but that's rare now, he said.
The popular Silver Sneakers exercise programs for senior citizens is one reason why.
"In the past month we've had over 100 seniors sign up for Silver Sneakers," he said. "It helps balance the use of the building -- they tend to come in the morning," he said.
A half-dozen years ago there used to be lulls in the fitness and pool areas around 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on weekdays. "You could yell down the hallway in either direction and nobody would hear you," Omberg joked.
But no more. On Friday at around 10 a.m. Omberg noticed that every piece of cardio equipment was in use.
The cardio equipment, including treadmills and stair-steppers, is the most popular part of the fitness area for adults.
(Kids are evenly split between liking the pool and the fieldhouse, Omberg said.)
Because of its popularity, new cardio equipment is on the way, "thanks to the generosity of our Backyard donors," he said.
(The Backyard addition to the fieldhouse is now under construction).
In the short term, one more incumbent exercise bike and one more stepper are being added. "So it will get a little more crowded upstairs," Omberg said.
But not for long: When the Backyard addition opens, it will include a special room for free weights; the weight machines will move to the cardio area near the pool windows; and the cardio area will move behind the thin brick walls that now house the weight equipment. It will provide about a third again more room for cardio machines, Omberg said.
And it's not just the fitness and pool areas that are busy, either. On Tuesday, 1,400 kids were scheduled to come to the Holmes Theatre for a production of Harold and the Purple Crayon, and tickets for the Late Nite Catechism 3 comedy on Thursday are selling well, Omberg said.
With the senior citizens center, alternative high school and day care rooms available through the rear entrance, and tanning beds and massage services, as well as offices in the old part of the building, about 800 people a day come through the doors, Omberg continued.
"More people have asked me the question, 'what did we do without it?'" he added.
He has fielded questions from around the state -- and around this part of the country -- from mayors and community leaders who want to know how Detroit Lakes succeeded in getting the facility built.
"'If we could pick up your building and move it, we would -- it's what we want," is what a number of mayors told Omberg during a meeting of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities that was held in Detroit Lakes.
The community center opened in December of 2001, and -- as of Monday --1,531,127 people have gone through the doors of the fitness center.
That number grows by about 600 a day in the winter months, Omberg said.
The number of memberships dropped when the recession hit in 2008, broke even in 2009, and rose again in 2010.
"We took our hit like everybody else two years ago, but this year there was an increase. If you're going to take the temperature of the economy by us -- it's starting to get better."
That's good news for the community center, and good news for the 90 full- and part-time employees that work there.
"People are surprised there's that many," Omberg said, "But when you start looking at the lifeguards and the fitness instructors -- we have 15 fitness instructors -- front desk workers, personal trainers, massage therapists, people in the offices, janitorial staff ... overall, there is no spot in the facility that is dead space."
And for those who didn't know, you don't have to be a member to use the community center.
About 13,000 day passes are sold annually ($5 for students, $9 for adults). And more people are realizing it's a good deal to upgrade their memberships to premier-plus.
It costs $10 more per month for a family membership, but that brings free fitness classes (otherwise Zumba classes, for example, are $3 per class), free racquetball, unlimited tanning, and free use of the water slide, towels and padlocks.
"Over 60 percent of our members are Premier Plus, so people find value in the additional cost," Omberg said.