Closing of St. Luke’s gym leaves a hole in midtown KC

07/08/2014 2:39 PM

07/08/2014 2:39 PM

The loss of a hospital’s gymnasium is being felt in midtown Kansas City.

Twice a week for two years, Emily Johnson swam at St. Luke’s Center for Health Enhancement.

She found the fitness center at 4200 Wornall Road through an acquaintance, and it was within walking distance of her then-boyfriend.

The building was clean in spite of its age, and, Johnson said, was bereft of “the usual narcissistic gym rats.”

“Honestly, I was the youngest person who ever used the pool as far as I could tell,” the 28-year-old professional said.

Then, Johnson and other patrons learned that the Center for Health Enhancement would close at the end of May. She recalls getting only about two weeks’ notice, and she has yet to join another gym.

Laurel Gifford, the hospital’s director of media relations, said St. Luke’s actually notified the members May 5, nearly four weeks before the closure.

At the time, hospital officials cited money concerns and pointed out that the fitness center was not paying for itself in spite of drawing membership fees from 70 percent of the attendees.

Last week, Gifford said the building was declared at the “end of life,” and the cost to replace it was estimated in the “millions.” Such an investment isn’t consistent with the hospital’s current priorities, which are “the highest level of patient care and access to the most experienced clinicians and most advanced medical technologies and treatments,” she added.

The decision irritated retired judge and former gym member Scott Wright.

“Although they support healthy living and encourage people being healthy, that’s not the way people make money at St. Luke’s,” Wright said. “That’s fairly crass.”

The former judge said hospital officials told him that the facilities were inadequate, but he disagreed.

Former gym member Don Maxwell used to see Wright there almost daily, and he knew a woman who moved to be closer to the gym.

“We all thought the facility was there because St. Luke’s was trying to promote healthy lifestyles,” Maxwell said. “You know: ‘Center for Health Enhancement.’ We didn’t realize that their main interest was to make profit from this place.”

Gifford said the gym lacked “sufficient participation” by members — both the hospital’s employees and community members — to offset the costs, a disparity that only worsened when considering the renovations that hospital staff saw as critical.

A few gyms in the immediate area might be able to accommodate the gym’s former members.

A Gold’s Gym location at 4050 Pennsylvania Ave. is about two blocks away. An outdoor pool can be found at the Woodside Health and Tennis Club at 2000 W. 47th Place just over the state line in Kansas. And theGYMkc, formerly known as Scott Fitness, has a location at 3600 Broadway Blvd.

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