During a recent tour of the new crown jewel of Metro Parks Tacoma, it quickly became clear that names like “gym” or “fitness center” simply don’t do justice to the South Tacoma Area Recreation Center.
In fact, when I called the new $16 million, 32,000-square-foot facility “the only gym I’ve ever seen with a teaching kitchen,” center supervisor Dave Griffith quickly corrected me.
“It’s not a gym,” he said. “It’s a community center.”
As such, it’s much more than a gym and sometimes a little bit less.
While it lacks palatial weight rooms, racquetball courts and onsite basketball courts and a pool like you’d see at a YMCA, it also takes a more complete approach to fitness than many gyms.
It is loaded with fitness opportunities for children instead of simply providing daycare.
Its teaching kitchen will offer classes to instruct people on how to prepare healthful meals.
And its state-of-the-art exercise equipment offers virtual personal trainers for those who don’t want to spend the money on the real thing.
And, of course, there will be fitness club standbys such as boot camps, cycling classes, yoga and Zumba held on the center’s hardwood, shock-absorbing floors.
“Our goal is to be welcoming to everybody,” said manager Tareena Joubert.
The STAR Center is partially open and offering tours daily at noon, but the fitness facilities don’t go online until May 1. A grand opening complete with an adventure run and games is scheduled for May 19.
The facility, at 3873 S. 66th St., is part of what Metro Parks is calling the South End Recreational Adventure Campus. The campus includes the softball and baseball fields formerly known as the South End Recreation Area, Gray Middle School and the Boys & Girls Clubs of South Puget Sound.
Joubert said all of the facilities, more than 100,000 square feet in total, can be used for programs. STAR Pass holders also get access to the Mount Tahoma High School pool and discounts at the Meadow Park Golf Course. Both facilities are a little more than a mile from the center.
One of the most impressive features of the facility is its $63 per month family STAR Pass. The pass is good for two adults and up to four children and includes childcare. By comparison, a YMCA membership in Pierce County is $122 for a family and day care is $3 per hour ($2.50 per hour for additional children).
“We want to eliminate as many barriers as we can,” Joubert said. “We want people to be fit.”
Unlike most gyms, STAR Center is funded by taxpayers as part of a park improvement bond passed in 2005. State grants chipped in another $2.2 million.
Crews are working to finish adventurous indoor and outdoor playgrounds that include slides and other play toys for children. One kids exercise room includes a climbing wall.
The center will also offer Mommy and Me classes, and children’s yoga, said Margeaux Furhman, the center’s youth program coordinator.
“Everything is geared toward getting kids to be active,” Joubert said.
From a lunch counter run by Subway, to the teaching kitchen, to hosting the Tacoma Farmers Market and vending machines stocked with healthful snacks, the center also emphasizes nutrition.
At first glance, the primary adult workout area looks like any other gym with elliptical trainers, treadmills and weight machines.
But a quick tour from fitness specialist Ellie Eckroth quickly unveils the gym’s cutting edge features. The TechnoGym cardio equipment has large touch screens that allow users to play games, cruise the Web or watch TV. Seats easily fold away on much of the equipment making them wheelchair accessible. And a handful of exercise bikes are designed so that the energy generated by riders is returned to the center’s electrical grid.
But what really sets the equipment apart is the virtual trainer. For $40, gym users can purchase a “wellness key” that looks a bit like a USB thumb drive.
After an orientation with a fitness professional, the key is loaded with workouts tailored to your goals. Users check in, then plug their key into machines for directions on how long and how intensely they should workout. Heart rate monitors can also be checked.
The weight machines instruct users when they are going too fast or not using the appropriate range of motion.
“It’s good for people who are not familiar with working out,” Eckroth said. “Or people who are intimidated (by big gyms).”
The keys also keep track of calories burned, weight lifted and distance traveled. You can also log your weight, body fat percentage, blood pressure and other data. (The center offers free blood pressure and bioelectrical impedance body fat percentage tests.)
A separate exercise room uses TechnoGym Kinesis equipment that requires users to push and pull weight-loaded cables from various angles to improve strength, balance and flexibility. Echroth says using the equipment is non-impact and provides a strength and cardio workout.
With just 10 days left until the fitness programs begin at STAR Center, some workers say they are feeling pangs of nervous anticipation, but they’re certain the public will like what they see.
“Based on the feedback we’ve had so far, we’re meeting a huge need in the community,” Fuhrman said. “That’s exciting.”
Craig Hill’s fitness column runs Sundays. Please submit questions and comments via firstname.lastname@example.org
Also get more fitness coverage at thenewstribune.com/adventure and thenewstribune.com/fitness