SURGOINSVILLE — Nicholas Luksha and his son Nicholas Jr. received some disappointing news when they arrived at the Surgoinsville Municipal Fitness Center for the first time ever Monday evening intent on starting a regular workout program.
After years of operating in the red, including an all-time high $25,000 loss in the 2016-17 fiscal year, the Surgoinsville Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted Monday to close the fitness center as of Dec. 1.
The Lukshas live a couple blocks form the fitness center and wanted to start taking advantage of the $20 monthly fee for city residents.
"We were just hoping to get into it, but we're going to have to find somewhere else to do it," Luksha said.
The fitness center was opened in 2009 on Main Street across from City Hall after the city received a deal on the equipment, which it purchased used for $5,000.
Although the fitness center lost between $8,000 and $11,000 every year it has been open, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen has kept it going as a service to the citizens.
But when it lost $25,000 last year, city leaders decided that was too much for the town to absorb and began talking about closing it down.
The action taken Monday by the BMA leaves the door open for a private citizen to take over the fitness center and try to run it as a for-profit business.
The motion approved 5-0 Monday states that unless someone steps forward by Dec. 1 and expresses an interest in taking over operations, the town will sell the equipment for $5,000.
Fitness center night clerk Teresa Elwell isn't happy about losing her part-time job, but she understands why the BMA came to that decision.
"I can see it both ways because if you’re losing money, I can see (closing)," Elwell said. "But it does have a lot of positives here. We have a lot of older people who come. I wish we would do more to promote it. I think we could make it better."
But Elwell doesn't believe the fitness center is capable of making a profit. It can't survive without help from the city budget, she said.
Over the past 30 days, only 148 people have utilized the fitness center, or about 12 per day.
This past summer, the BMA considered installing a key card entry system to cut down on overhead by eliminating the need for a clerk.
But the Surgoinsville Utility District, which owns the building, would require a door connecting the fitness center to the SUD main offices to be walled up and a second emergency door to be installed at the front of the building.
Mayor Merrell Graham said it would be too much expense for the town on a building it doesn't own.
"It's been open five months this fiscal year," Graham told the board. "We lost $25,000 last year and it's not any better. If anything it's gotten worse."
Graham added, "It's a big decision to make. Nobody wants to close it. For those who use it, it's a good thing. It's not (an easy decision) for the town, but my opinion is we can't continue to lose that kind of money."
Despite the bad news, Luksha and his son worked out at the fitness center Monday for about an hour, paying the $5 single-day fee instead of the monthly membership as he intended.
"There's nowhere close around here, so we'll have to drive up to Rogersville," Luksha said.
Full Surgoinsville BMA meeting, 11-13-17: