New fitness center planned for Meriden middle school

New fitness center planned for Meriden middle school


MERIDEN — Washington Middle School students and faculty can look forward to a new fitness center at the beginning of the school year, after the school system won a $100,000 grant this month.

The grant, furnished by the National Foundation for Governors’ Fitness Council, will cover the cost of new strength-training and cardiovascular equipment as well as interactive fitness games, Washington Principal Ray Southland said.

“This is extremely exciting,” Southland said. “It’s going to benefit our kids greatly.”

The facility, outfitted by Chino, California-based TuffStuff Fitness International, will replace the school’s existing “small gym,” and should be complete by late September or early October, Southland said.

Middle school administrators and TuffStuff staff will meet early this month to plan a layout for the room, Southland said.

“Right now, we’ve got a few stationary bikes back there (in the smaller gym), and it’s mostly used for specialized programs,” Southland said. “We should be able to use this room with full classes once it’s complete. They’re talking about having something like 20 different fitness stations.”

Victoria Smith, who teaches physical education and health at the middle school, expects the new equipment will not only involve more students, but also get them excited about exercising.

“The other P.E. teacher and I have talked about maybe rotating classes of students through the two gyms. Say we’ve got a team activity going on in the bigger gym, we can have the other students get in a cardio unit, instead of just sitting and waiting to rotate in,” Smith said.

The move to a fitness center aligns with the school system’s push for more health-conscious curriculum as well, School Superintendent Mark Benigni said.

“We’re committed as a district to making sure that our students embrace healthy living,” Benigni said. “We’ve got unique programs in our extended-day schools, we’re focused on healthy and nutritious lunches and snacks as well.”

Susan Maffe, the district’s director of food services, said the new equipment will add a missing piece of the students’ wellness puzzle.

“Food is only part of the puzzle, and from a nutrition standpoint, I think we’re in really good shape,” Maffe said. “Unfortunately, the physical fitness side of the equation has suffered in recent years, but this is a step toward putting that puzzle piece together.”

In addition to meeting the Fitness Council’s strict space requirements, the soon-to-be converted gymnasium at Washington was an obvious choice for other reasons.

“We picked a space that we didn’t feel was getting optimum usage, and I’m excited to convert that,” Benigni said.

No other public school in the city has the quality and quantity of equipment that’s planned for Washington Middle School, Benigni said. Both Maloney and Platt high schools will contain “top notch” fitness and workout rooms once construction is complete, “but this is a unique addition to Washington. It’ll be something special for that school,” Benigni said.

Both Benigni and Southland said they hoped to make the room available to students, staff, and the community both before and after school hours.

“My goal is to maximize the use of the facility. I’m anxious to see what (curriculum) options the school suggests, and I can see it being open in the evenings for teachers, or community members,” Benigni said. “The space is going to really provide us with options to get our students, and our community more involved.” (203) 317-2279 Twitter: @MollCal

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