For most people, the hardest thing about starting—and sticking with—an exercise regimen is having to actually go to the gym or health club. Homeowners lucky enough to have a gym on their community association's grounds, however, have an advantage. Nothing makes exercising easier than being able to roll out of bed and walk a few yards to your community health club. No driving 20 minutes to get there, no having to carry a gym bag or wait in line to shower. Having an on-site health club in your condo community offers the kind of ease and convenience for which most people would give a well-toned arm or leg.
So what goes into the creation and management of a health facility at an HOA? With a bit of capital, a team of experts and the willingness to take the plunge, an on-site gym can be a fairly painless proposition.
The Upside of Health Clubs
Today, more and more condo communities are adding on-site health clubs to their list of amenities. From indoor swimming pools to state-of-the-art exercise equipment to professionally staffed aerobics and Pilates classes, these clubs add enormously to the condo community—both for residents and in terms of property value. It's something that residents want either in their building or in the condo complex.
"Most people today understand the importance of fitness in their lives," says Wendy Bosalavage, president of American Leisure Corporation in Nanuet, New York. "The club is a place for them to meet their neighbors or bring guests. They don't have to join an outside club, so there's convenience. And there's also an exclusivity to it—the perception that "my building has something other buildings might not.'"
If an association's budget is on the flexible side, one of the best ways to determine the possible scope and makeup of a health club is to examine the demographics of the building. For a smaller community of older residents, a modest gym with a selection of basic exercise equipment might suffice. For a more mixed community of families, singles and seniors, a club offering classes or saunas and other broader amenities might be in order. "If it's mostly young people in smaller living spaces, they might want a social game room," Bosalavage says.
Experts can also help determine the look, feel and purpose of a facility. There is a wide range of options available for on-site facilities, and the possibilities seem to be expanding each day. These days, leisure facilities can do more than just serve as home base for exercise. They can offer everything from game rooms and social centers to children's play areas and multi-purpose rooms for lectures and other events. For example, American Leisure created a multi-purpose center in a building on 47th Street in Manhattan that offered a fitness room that could double as a screening room for movies, with curtains covering the mirrored walls and easily removable chairs that could be taken out at a moment's notice.
It's a trend that's crossing the river into New Jersey, as evidenced by the 168-unit One Hudson Park, rising along the waterfront in Edgewater. With one-, two- and three-bedroom units ranging between $398,000 and more than $1.5 million in price, this luxury high-rise has not skimped on the health club amenities, offering a lap pool, fitness center with state-of-the-art equipment and a yoga studio, all on-site.
For most existing co-op and condo buildings and communities, the health club facility will be more modest in scale and scope. The most important thing, however, is the convenience and value it will impart to current and future residents. "Most people just want a fitness option," says Bosalavage. And that's where the planning begins.
The first thing to consider when developing a health facility is how much space the community can devote to this addition. Will the board be building a new space to house it? Is there an existing space? If an existing space is under consideration, there are certain questions to consider. "Is there enough space for the equipment?" says Bosalavage. "Is the HVAC system suitable?"
Experts should be brought into the process as early as possible. "We can take a look at the space available, look at budgets and help determine how to maximize that space," Bosalavage says.
Beyond the physical space, another factor in determining the scale of the health club offering involves staffing and management. For smaller gym areas perhaps offering free weights, some basic equipment and nothing else, the question of management is easy to solve: there's no need for an on-site staff. For larger clubs with more equipment and an offering of classes, employees are an absolute necessity.
Thankfully, a board should not have to think about the hiring and training of staff if they have hired a full-service health facility provider to set-up their club. "A full-service company will provide all your staff," Bosalavage says. "We have people who will teach classes, manage the facility, serve as trainers and coordinate events." A health facilities company also will interact directly with the building's property manager, leaving the board time to tackle other duties and concerns.
Having a fully-staffed club will improve the facility's overall value, Bosalavage says. "When something isn't manned properly, it's not used as much. Having professional, certified trainers on hand means having people who can help residents reach their fitness goals."
Depending on the size of the club and the number of services provided, the annual cost for professional management can range anywhere from $150,000 to $500,000
Liability, Insurance and Regulations
Contracting with a corporate entity to manage a gym facility also removes the co-op or condo board from liability concerns, says Debbie Pasquariello of Boyarin Hourigan Blundell Insurance Agency in Toms River. "The company running the gym provides the insurance and would have to be named as a secondary [insured] on the building's general liability policy."
On a smaller scale, if the board decides to allow a yoga instructor or aerobics teacher to come on-site and lead classes in a gym that was previously used only for equipment, the insurance company would ask for that instructor to present a certificate of insurance before they would be allowed to teach the class.
For any on-site health club that is unstaffed and does not offer classes, Pasquariello says that no additional insurance is needed. "Basically when there's just a room with standard equipment, they don't have to do anything extra," she says. "Some boards will ask residents to sign waivers, but those don't always stand up in court." In most cases, she says, basic liability coverage should be enough. "It only starts to become a problem when you start offering things like aerobics classes with instructors and trainers."
Beyond questions of insurance, it pays to have a professional manage a health club facility for the simple fact that it is easier for them to navigate the bureaucracy surrounding such establishments. Facilities that are designated "health clubs" by the New Jersey Office of Consumer Protection must adhere to a number of codes and regulations aimed at protecting individuals, including the residents who use these clubs in their co-op or condo complex.
According to information provided by Tamisha Hallman of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs (DCA), health clubs are defined in very specific terms. They are places that —among other things—must devote at least 40 percent of their facility space to fitness or well-being through physical exercise. They also must have open hours in which members can use the facility, and cannot be devoted to a single focus or skill, like a martial arts studio, a dance school or a gymnastics school, for example.
Facilities defined as health clubs that provide memberships lasting more than three months are required to register with the state and renew that registration every two years. They are also required to maintain a bond or provide a letter of credit ensuring that they have enough resources to provide the services promised.
There are other regulations to keep track of too, covering everything from fee payments to contract cancellations. The penalties for not following the state's regulations can be steep. As set under the Consumer Fraud Act, violators face penalties of up to $10,000 for the first offense and $20,000 for subsequent offenses. The DCA may also seek restitution on behalf of unit owners or other club members affected by the fraud. All of this is a long way of saying that many busy buildings and associations find that using a professional company to manage their health clubs takes a lot of the stress and possible problems out of the equation. Professional assistance enables them to offer their residents and prospective buyers an upscale, on-site health club facility without having to worry about the fine print.
Whatever the scope or the scale, providing a warm, inviting place for residents to gather, exercise and socialize can increase the desirability of any co-op or condo community. It can enhance the financial value of the property while also giving unit owners a better sense of belonging and a place where they can take a few minutes to step away from the stresses of their everyday lives and simply focus on improving their bodies, minds and spirits.
Liz Lent is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to The New Jersey Cooperator.