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A free community gym is coming to Edward Waters University

Edward Waters University.jpg
Claire Heddles
/
WJCT
Jacksonville is committing a half-million dollars to build a fitness and wellness center at Edward Waters University. It will be open to the public for free. 

A new, free gym is coming to Jacksonville’s New Town neighborhood, an attempt to reduce health disparities and lack of opportunities in the area.

City Council on Tuesday committed half a million dollars to build a fitness and wellness center at Edward Waters University. The university will repurpose an old cafeteria, using $500,000 in city dollars to renovate the space and buy treadmills, exercise bikes and weight machines. 

University Vice President Randolph Mitchell says the gym will fill a gap in the Northwest Jacksonville community. 

"South Side, West Side, Riverside have those facilities," Mitchell said. "I'm not suggesting that the individuals in this area cannot go to these particular areas across this city, but then it comes with a cost, comes with transportation issues."

The university’s goal is to open the gym within a year after Mayor Lenny Curry signs off on the spending plan. 

It will be free to the public for the first five years it's open. The university will then have the option of charging a fee after five years.

A few council members raised concerns about the maintenance of the facility during committee discussions, resulting in the provision that the university can eventually charge for use to cover future costs.

Council President Sam Newby spearheaded the effort to build the fitness center on campus, as part of an effort to diminish health disparities in the Northwest Jacksonville region.

"This area, when it comes to infant mortality, is one of the highest ZIP codes," Newby said.

In order to pass the spending plan, council decided not to follow a new rule that requires a competitive grant process for nonprofits in line for city funds.

In November, council members signed off on a bill that required additional oversight of nonprofits getting city money. The move came after council members gave more than $4 million to hand-picked organizations, many of which had personal or professional ties to council members.

In order to pass the $500,000 non-compete grant for the new Edward Waters fitness center, council agreed to waive the new rule.