KETCHIKAN — Every day a small gathering waits for the doors to the Ketchikan Recreation Center to open at 5 a.m. These early risers will complete their morning workout while the blue of the sky lightens and the town sleeps on.
Later, around 7 a.m., the center is hopping. The weight room clanks and the track is well-used by runners and walkers. Aerobics and Pilates classes are letting out and more people walk the hallways to and from changing rooms. People swim laps in the eight-lane Gateway Aquatic Center lap pool, while others exercise their aerobic fitness in classes.
Susan Fisher has been coming to the recreation center to walk the track almost every day since 1999. She is part of a group pass and said she prefers the indoor track to walking in her neighborhood.
“There’s no dogs, no bugs, no cars and no dirt in my contacts,” she said. “There are restrooms nearby and I can leave for work right from here.”
The use of the recreation center and pool have grown in the last 12 months, even with recent fee increases. The center recorded 23,773 uses in June 2013, compared to 15,576 in June 2012. Uses are marked not by the number of people who walk in the door, but by the number of times something is used. One person who needs a towel, plays basketball and uses the weight room creates three uses, said Wendy Miller, borough recreation director. She reports the use number to Borough Manager Dan Bockhorst for his manager’s report to the Assembly.
By afternoon, the place is abuzz with activity. The children’s room is full, utilizing the outdoor space when the summer sun shines. Basketball games, air hockey and other youth activities echo through the building. Sounds of laughter, exercise and people having fun fill the space.
A wave of folks come during the lunch hour to attend classes and get their blood moving to increase energy and carry them through the afternoon. Then, there is an after-work crowd, making sure to fit healthy habits in the day where possible.
Zack Tapey, in town for the summer, spends his time at the recreation center in the weight room. He said he used to go to a different gym in town, but decided the recreation center was a better fit for him.
“It has everything I need,” Tapey said. “And it’s better equipment.”
All day the center provides classes and opportunities for people to use the facility, from the children’s activities to Pilates, aerobics and the weight room. The recreation center also offers a variety of classes and activities through the seasons, including pumpkin carving in October, preschool crafts, bouncy house Thursdays and martial arts.
“We used to offer fencing because there was a family in town that was with the Coast Guard, and they were fencing instructors,” Miller said. “After their tour was done, they left. So things come in waves and a lot of it is depending who comes by that’s trained.”
The aquatic center also offers a variety of activities, including lap swim, swimming lessons and water aerobics. In the past, the center has offered springboard diving courses as well as an exploratory scuba class.
Karen Taylor has worked at the swimming pool for 20 years, first starting as a receptionist and working to her current position as director. She said one of the more challenging parts of running the new aquatic center is moving to the more spacious pool and building from the old Mike Smithers Community Pool.
“There’s a lot more going on, more people,” she said. “You find yourself needing to have more employees to fill the holes.”
The employees themselves are also a challenge. The majority are ages 16 to 25 — an age where many are still learning how to be an adult, she said.
Because of increased use over the past year, in addition to an increase in rates, the recreation center has experienced a bump in revenue of about $200,000.
With an annual operating cost of $2.3 million, and revenue of about $730,000, the center is subsidized through the borough’s general fund. The increase of revenue generated by the center from around $500,000 to more than $730,000 has been welcome.
“It’s always a concern. They want us to make a little bit more revenue so we made some slight changes in prices,” Miller said.
One of the recent changes that made a positive impact on revenue was the group pass, Miller said. Instead of offering corporate passes, which would exclude people who do not work or whose employers don’t have an agreement with the recreation center, they offer group passes so people can join together for a discounted rate.
Taylor and Miller said the recreation center and aquatic center adds something tangible and worthwhile to the community.
“It’s something for all these kids to do when it’s pouring down rain outside, when it’s dark and dreary,” Taylor said. “On Sundays when it’s pouring down rain it’s packed in here.
“We live in a water based community. Every single one of them is down on the dock looking at some fish or on a boat. We teach how to use a life jacket, how to call 911. It’s good for the community, for kids who are raised here right now. They’ll get comfortable on and around the water,” she said.
Julie Tibbles brings her daughter to swim lessons in the afternoon. She said Reese, 6, took one session of lessons in Texas, where they lived before, but was able to take two sessions here. And because Reese is the only student in her age group this session, she has received a lot of teacher-time, helping her progress in her swimming ability. Tibbles said she’ll sign up her daughter for lessons in the fall.
“Anything we can do to keep her comfortable and safe in the water is what we’re gonna do,” she said. “We definitely get more bang for our buck here.”