Parks board denies access to community center for exercise classes during pandemic


Local fitness instructor Ellen Olmstead knows all too well the effects of a sedentary lifestyle on senior citizens.

She also knows the positive social, mental and physical impact that exercise classes can have on the aging population.

Twice a week, she leads about 40 women in outdoor exercise sessions at Crossroads Community Park in downtown Seymour.

The classes are open to the public for a donation of $5 or whatever the person can afford, Olmstead said.

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“No one is turned away,” she said.

But with cold weather approaching, the group is in need of an indoor location to come together to exercise.

On Monday, Olmstead and several women who attend her classes went before the Seymour Parks and Recreation Board to request use of the second floor of the downtown Seymour Community Center during the winter.

“We just want to be able to keep going,” she said.

Several other local exercise groups also have voiced an interest in using the space for public yoga, Zumba and Body Rock classes during the winter.

The 6,000-square-foot community center at 107 S. Chestnut St. is owned and operated by the city and is under control of the parks and recreation department. It underwent renovations and updates in March but was closed shortly after due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In July, the parks board voted to keep the center closed for senior programming through at least January 2021 to prevent the spread of the virus. On Monday, the board extended that closure to all programming, including Kids Corner activities.

The only ones allowed to use the building right now are Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southeast Indiana and Enhance Inc., a direct service provider for adults with developmental disabilities, both of which lease office space on the second floor.

Private rentals of the first floor are still available on Saturdays for birthday and anniversary parties and bridal and baby showers of 50 people or fewer.

Although he isn’t against the center hosting exercise classes in the future, parks board President Gary Colglazier said it is too much of a risk to have groups of people together in an indoor setting at this time.

“None of the board is against what you’re doing,” he told Olmstead. “The problem is the virus. The consensus is we keep it closed until we figure out what’s going to happen.”

He hopes to be able to reopen the community center for programming next spring or summer.

Olmstead said she isn’t trying to change the board’s mind about COVID. She just wants to help seniors improve their fitness level and remain active during the pandemic and after.

“It would be good to capitalize on an up-and-coming population that needs a less sedentary lifestyle,” she said. “It’s so easy in today’s world to be sedentary and pick up that extra 10 or 20 or 30 pounds and not do anything about it until you injure yourself.”

Olmstead said she would like to be proactive and help start a senior fitness initiative in Jackson County.

“We’re about the second fattest county in the state,” she said. “We should be known for something positive.”

Although much emphasis has been placed on the fitness level of youth in the county over the years, Olmstead said there needs to be opportunities for older adults.

Besides improving physical fitness, group exercise classes also help seniors with depression, she said.

She described one class participant in her late 70s as a “wilted flower” because she was unable to exercise with others during the stay-at-home order this past spring.

Olmstead said she is willing to take any safety measures the board might require, including taking participants’ temperatures before each class.

“I’m not above any request that you all might have to try to implement something to keep people moving,” she said.

Without the community center, the group likely will have to stop meeting until spring when they can be outdoors again, she added.

Olmstead also teaches fitness classes at a local gym, but the class sizes have been reduced and participants are required to purchase a gym membership, which can be cost-prohibitive for people on a fixed income, she said.

Parks Director Stacy Findley said by working with local fitness instructors to offer free or minimal cost exercise classes to the public at parks facilities, the city is improving social equity.

“We want to make sure we don’t have socioeconomic oppression when it comes to health and wellness,” Findley said.

Board member Matt Levine thanked Olmstead for teaching the classes and said he wished the situation was different.

“I think this is a great service you are providing, and while this is not ideally what you want to hear, please come back to us because we’d like to at some point in time allow you to do this,” he said.

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