In the off-season, Turner keeps focus on the community


A patron cycles at the Turner Community Center. Photo by Megan Tan.

Patrick Hosken | Staff Writer

Every morning, Chautauqua Health and Fitness manager Andy Freay heads to the Turner Community Center to open up shop. Both the pool and the fitness center, which boasts a large selection of treadmills, free weights and strength training equipment, open at 7 a.m. every day of the week.

The facility has to open that early, Freay said, because of the morning rush it sees, made up of Amphitheater patrons exercising before the 10:45 a.m. lecture. Then, around 3:30 p.m. or 4 p.m., more exercisers flood Turner for an after-work gym trip.

So, what happens after Week Nine, when all the lectures, readings and concerts end, and Chautauqua shuts down for the summer?

According to Freay, who has run the Turner and Heinz Beach fitness centers with his wife, Betsy, for the last six years, not much changes.

“If you come in an evening in the off-season, November through May, it’s just as busy at night as in our peak times over the summer,” he said. “We keep it busy all year.”

Turner remains just as available in the off-season as it does during the Institution’s heavily scheduled nine-week summer. In fact, its weekday hours don’t decrease at all; only the weekends see shorter hours of operation.

“There’s only four days out of the year that we close: Christmas, New Year’s, Thanksgiving and Easter — or if there’s a major power outage,” Freay said, smiling.

The “Community” portion of Turner’s name takes a larger role during the off-season, according to Jack Voelker, director of the Department of Recreation and Youth Services.

“I’ve always thought that the Turner building and the fitness center and pool in particular are really a bridge between the Institution’s summer life and the Institution’s life as a part of the year-round community,” Voelker said.

By selling one- and two-week memberships, Turner accommodates the needs of the short-term Chautauqua visitors, a group that makes up about 80 percent of all the Institution’s guests, Voelker said. When they leave, the small population that remains here on the grounds as well as exercisers from surrounding areas like Mayville, Bemus Point and Westfield, keep Turner a bustling fitness hub.

“So, really in a curious sort of way, that’s what’s made the fitness center so successful — that we have two audiences, and they’re both enthusiastically supporting the same place but come from very different needs,” Voelker said. “If either one of those audiences wasn’t in place, it would be hard for us to maintain that quality and that extensive a facility.”

Maintaining the facility requires Turner to operate on a rotating schedule of updating equipment, Freay said. Each year, Turner adds new, more modern machines to its fitness center, including, most recently, more shock-absorbent treadmills and cardiovascular machines with iPod-hookup capabilities.

This has led to Turner’s reputation as a leading fitness facility, Freay said.

“A common question when people come back at the beginning of the summer is: ‘What do you have new this year?’ he said. “We get that all the time.”

In addition to a fleshed-out fitness center, Turner also harbors a popular pool, which becomes especially useful in the off-season, Freay said. The pool hosts a Red Cross Learn to Swim Program for kids in the immediate area as well as for those from nine different school districts nearby, including in Fredonia and Jamestown, N.Y..

Water aerobics, kayak instruction and water certification classes all have taken place at the Turner pool during the off-season, Voelker said. Turner’s conference rooms also have been used for off-season scholarship programs and adult-education classes.

“Our intention has been to maximize the opportunities for people to participate in something at Turner,” he said. “I’ve sometimes described it as a diner without the doughnuts, because you get that feeling of when you go there, you’re going to see somebody you know, and that’s a nice thing.”

Turner’s positive social atmosphere is what invites some to begin a membership and what entices others to continue theirs, Voelker said, pointing out that it’s common to see husbands and wives exercising together and regular patrons chatting with each other each time they work out.

With discounted group memberships beginning in the fall, Freay stressed that the best time to sign up actually is when Chautauqua is at its quietest. Considering Turner’s extensive fitness equipment, pool and gymnasium, when a deal like that comes along, it’s hard to pass up.

When Chautauqua reopens next June for its 2012 Season, Turner won’t have much preparation to do — it’s been open all year.