Even though many commercial health club owners have slowed construction and expansion projects, the United States government continues to invest in physical fitness facilities for members of the armed forces.

“We probably haven't seen the same decline [in funds] as commercial facilities,” says Lisa Sexauer, fitness, sports and deployed forces commander, Navy Installations Command Fleet and Family Readiness.

For instance, the Army recently awarded a $23 million contract for construction of a new fitness facility at Fort Carson, CO. The design-build project will host multiple fitness areas, a gym, an indoor pool, locker rooms and administrative space. In addition, a $92,000 contract for fitness equipment was awarded for the facility. Funding for the project was approved in 2008 as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year (FY) 2009, which ran from Oct. 1, 2008 to Sept. 30, 2009.

Fort Carson was one of 10 fitness center military construction projects contracted in FY 2009 (see related sidebar at www.clubindustry.com). Another 71 fitness center construction projects are programmed through FY 2014, according to Arthur Myers, Department of Defense (DoD) principal director of Military Community and Family Policy, who testified at a House Subcommittee on Military Personnel hearing in July. Myers also said the DoD has long-term plans to modernize its fitness infrastructure.

Last month, the military's Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) Policy Office announced plans to work with service fitness program managers to improve DoD fitness facilities, programs and services. The long-term effort will work to accurately capture costs for fitness facility sustainment, modernization and operations so they can be included in annual budget requests.

The MWR office also contracted the Council on Accreditation to help review and summarize research and best practices for DoD, public and private physical fitness standards, including those for programming, training and staffing, in an effort to improve military fitness programming.

BUDGETS AND BILLS

As part of a military-wide effort to better support troops and their families, the FY 2010 DoD budget has baseline funding allocated for family support projects, which include funds for fitness centers through MWR programs.

“Our nation is understandably weary after six years in Iraq and eight years in Afghanistan,” Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told a gathering of the Association of the United States Army in early October. “Easing that strain and getting the troops what they need drove many of the changes reflected in the Fiscal Year 2010 budget. The base budget we submitted earlier this year includes $9 billion for family support: child care, spousal services and housing, among others. Perhaps more important, we shifted funds from supplemental war bills to the base budget.”

Of the $9 billion requested for family support in the FY 2010 budget, $1.2 billion was earmarked for MWR programs.

At the Congressional subcommittee hearing in July, Myers requested an extension of a law authorizing funding for minor, quick construction on quality of life projects, such as fitness facilities and day care centers. Since the original, temporary funding authority expired in FY 2009, Myers requested that it be extended to FY 2012.

Even though money is budgeted for military construction projects during one fiscal year, it doesn't necessarily mean funds will continue to be available in following years, Sexauer says.

“As of right now, in 2012, 2013 and 2014, we have five new construction projects on the list, but the budget is also subject to change,” Sexauer says of Navy fitness projects. “Things can get pushed aside as priorities shift.”

For now, though, Sexauer says the chief of naval operations indicated that the Navy's Category A programs, which include fitness facility upgrades, are core programs that will be preserved within budget allowances.

Other sources for military fitness funding include the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which was signed into law in February. It provides for more than $4.3 billion in funding for infrastructure improvements and renovations to DoD facilities, including family housing, barracks and other quality of life buildings, such as fitness facilities and day care centers.

Another law currently under consideration in Congress also would fund fitness facility construction. The Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act of 2010 would allocate $132 billion in funding for veterans' benefits and military construction projects. Construction projects include new barracks, fitness facilities and day care centers.

The bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives with a vote of 415-3 during the summer and awaits a final vote in the Senate.

The veterans' act would continue funding from 2005 Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) report recommendations, which provided billions of dollars for base closures, as well as structural improvements to bases scheduled for troop increases.

AGING INFRASTRUCTURE

So why have domestic quality of life facilities become a focus for a military engaged in wars overseas? Building age is one reason, Sexauer says.

“From a Navy perspective, we have a much greater hill to climb than commercial fitness facilities. Many of our buildings are 50 plus years old,” she says.

Next Page: NAVY, MARINE CORPS INVESTING IN FUNCTIONAL FITNESS

Public and media attention turned toward deteriorating military facilities after the Walter Reed Army Medical Center scandal in 2007 when The Washington Post published a series of articles about alleged neglect of the center's infrastructure.

And in 2008 a video taken by a soldier's father showing subpar barracks for the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, NC, appeared on YouTube.com. The Army announced a branch-wide audit of its barracks after the incident.

“Where service members live is a huge quality of life issue,” Sexauer notes.

Just as an updated facility and new equipment help with member recruitment and retention at commercial health clubs, the same goes for military facilities. And like many for-profit clubs, some military fitness facilities are making due with renovations in lieu of new construction.

“Recently, OSD [Office of the Secretary of Defense] provided the Navy with $20 million in end-of-year funds to renovate our facilities,” Sexauer says. “The end-of-year allotment of money is in place for smaller projects of $1 million or less…and will go toward renovation.”

Although renovation projects don't necessarily include new equipment purchases, they will include efforts to bring older facilities up to speed, go greener and update ball fields, she says.

“We're not going for shiny glass buildings, but we're making sure the facilities are standardized,” Sexauer says.

NAVY, MARINE CORPS INVESTING IN FUNCTIONAL FITNESS

Part of the Navy's long-range building plan includes adjusting traditional fitness center designs to feature areas for functional fitness, says Lisa Sexauer, fitness, sports and deployed forces commander, Navy Installations Command Fleet and Family Readiness.

Functional fitness, which uses an integrative approach to building muscles that work together, rather than in isolation, is gaining both attention and funding in the realm of military fitness. Functional training frequently is performed with tools such as stability balls, fitness bands and balance boards.

The U.S. Marine Corps also is incorporating spaces for functional fitness to its new facility designs. Two new fitness facilities at Camp Pendleton, CA, have been designed from the ground up with functional fitness in mind, says Bryan Driver, Policy and Public Affairs Branch, Personal and Family Readiness Division, HQMC.

One such project at Camp Pendleton is called the Las Flores Human Performance Center. Construction will begin in late 2010 on the 23,000-square-foot facility. It will include a 14,000-square-foot functional fitness room, a 3,000-square-foot multipurpose room and an outdoor functional training area surfaced with concrete, sand and decomposed granite.

“This design will deviate from the fitness centers that have been built in the past,” says Driver. “At this facility, Marines will be able to better train like athletes and ultimately perform better at CFTs [combat fitness tests], their daily jobs and activities, avoid training ruts and injuries, and be better prepared for combat.”

Driver says this design should promote more dynamic warm-ups, more agility and speed work, CFT preparation training, and drills with large groups.

The second Camp Pendleton project at Camp Horno also will include a functional fitness room with a variety of training tools, such as medicine balls, kettlebells and bands. The 23,000-square-foot building will feature two concrete outdoor functional fitness training pads at each end of the facility. Driver says each pad will include separate, custom pull-up bars and other functional fitness equipment. Construction for the project is expected to begin within the next few months.

The Marine Corps' new fitness center at Stone Bay, Camp Lejeune, NC, also has a human performance room outfitted with functional fitness equipment. That facility is slated to open in May 2010, Driver says.

Next Page: 2009 Military Fitness Center Contracts

2009 Military Fitness Center Contracts