Financial challenges stymie Gunter Fitness Center improvements

  • Published
  • By Col. Brian Killough
  • 42nd Air Base Wing

I have been trying very hard to embrace the fit to fight mentality and improve my fitness and well-being even though I am a civilian. I also have to try and maintain my fitness for my Reserve duty. However, the conditions at the Gunter gym make it very difficult to do that. Because the air is so hot, stagnant and humid in the main gym, the Gunter gym is virtually unusable during the summer months.

As a civilian, I am allotted physical training time, but it has to be taken on base. While the military can go over to Maxwell, I am forced to use the Gunter gym. However, as was the case yesterday, the gym has gotten so hot and suffocating that many people are unable to take advantage of classes such as step aerobics, spin class or zumba. I've seen people literally falling out of classes, and yesterday it was even more oppressive with all the doors shut due to the exercise. I myself had to stop during the aerobics class, because the heat was making me sick.

Yesterday, two Airmen were sitting in front of one of the floor fans, and both told me they were feeling ill from the heat. A majority of the cycles and the elliptical machines are also out in the main gym. The ladies locker room is air conditioned, but it only has two elliptical machines that are almost always in use and two treadmills that are in varying degrees of disrepair. I've had deployed Airmen tell me this gym is worse than ones they've encountered in their deployed locations. I've been on Gunter since 2004 and have heard the Gunter gym addressed by every leader during the last seven years with no progress.

The new floor in the locker room is nice, but I would rather have kept the old floor and been able to have proper ventilation to make the gym more usable during the hot and humid Alabama summer that pretty much runs from May to October. Is there a plan to install an HVAC system in the Gunter gym to improve the conditions? If so, what is the timeline?


Thank you for your concern over conditions at the Gunter Fitness Center as well as your dedication to stay fit to fight. You are correct that my predecessors and I have been advocating for a new fitness center at Gunter for quite some time. We desperately need a new facility to replace the 1943-vintage maintenance aircraft hangar that is both costly to maintain and severely undersized for the Gunter missions and population.

Unfortunately, we have not yet had success in getting the new facility approved through the Military Construction Program, or MILCON, but have been successful in moving our project forward at the major command level. We are fortunate to have air conditioning in the locker rooms and weight rooms but are not so lucky in the gym area where your fitness classes are held.

As we continue our fight for a new facility, we'd love to bridge the gap by installing a new air conditioning system for the gym; however, this work is considered new construction, and its cost pushes the project into the MILCON appropriations level as well. So a project to add a new air conditioning system would actually have to go through the same MILCON approval process as the new facility. We've also conducted economic analyses that indicate the most economically feasible solution is a new facility versus renovating and adding to the existing structure. For all these reasons, we are not able to install a new air conditioning system for the gym, but will continue to advocate hard with Air Force and Department of Defense senior leadership for a new facility.

To ensure the health and safety of our patrons, representatives from ITT, safety, quality and force support joined government quality assurance evaluators and the 42nd Medical Group Bioenvironmental Section to determine if the high temperatures inside the Gunter Fitness Center posed a risk to patrons using the gym floor area for exercise. According to bioenvironmental, ambient temperatures in the facility remain at a safe temperature in which patrons could work out, and patron use of the facility with those temperatures does not violate any Air Force fitness, heat stress directive or governing authority.

As an alternative to the high temperatures caused by a lack of a central HVAC system in the facility, the Fitness on Demand automated fitness class system is set up and available in the Gunter Community Center for patrons to use. Additional signs will be posted to market this alternative workout location. The fitness center staff is also working to procure additional large fans to increase air circulation in the facility.

I can promise you we will continue to maintain and operate the facility and the programs to the best of our abilities within the fiscal and operational constraints placed on us. We have used local funds as well as OSD focus funds recently to upgrade finishes, refinish courts, install new weight room flooring and refinish locker rooms. We hope to continue doing all we can to keep the facility running until we gain funding approval for a new facility.

Col. Brian Killough
42nd Air Base Wing commander