FORT BENNING, Ga. (Army News Service, July 24, 2007) - Soldiers and Family members at many installations exercise in older facilities with basic equipment, limited space and few frills.

With the dedication of the Sgt. 1st Class Paul R. Smith Fitness Center last month at Fort Benning, Ga., Soldiers and Family members there now have a 100,000 square foot, state-of-the-art exercise facility. And those stationed at other Army installations have a model for future fitness facilities.

The new $19 million fitness center is the first built using criteria established by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Centers of Standardization. The centers develop templates for how future facilities look, and can be tailored according to commanders' needs and what's already available on an installation.

"We found installations had too many basketball courts and not enough aerobic space. We use standardized criteria rather than plans to get exactly what the installation needs, for instance, more weight rooms," said Jay Clark, an architect for USACE's Engineering and Support Center, Engineering Directorate, in Hunstville, Ala, which is responsible for standardization of fitness centers.

Corps of Engineers employees created the design alongside local sports and fitness experts, as well as the U.S. Army Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command.

"We worked with Fort Benning officials to resolve any issues that surfaced during construction," Mr. Clark said. "For instance, the request for proposal did not specify the right type of aerobic flooring so they came to us and we worked that issue."

Planners also addressed anti-terrorism and force-protection issues.

"To get the image that we want to have in these new facilities, but include some of the constraints we have in Army construction like force protection and energy conservation, is very challenging, especially on tight budgets," Mr. Clark said. "The structure has special reinforcing and special frames. The glass must meet certain requirements, too."

Designers' goal is to create state-of-the-art facilities like those at major universities or community centers.

"It is a great facility," said Ken Wetherill, Fort Benning sports director. "Everybody did a great job on this. Overall the consensus has been positive."

Amenities include a 10,000 square foot, two-story weight room with a cardio theater; a three-court gymnasium for basketball and volleyball; a natatorium with a lap pool, recreational pool and hot tub; a large aerobic room that can be divided into two rooms; and a women's weight room.

A similar, but larger, fitness center is being constructed with the same criteria at Fort Bliss, Texas. Once complete, it will be the largest in the Army with approximately 120,125 square feet and five basketball courts.

"Fitness is critical for Soldiers," said Janet MacKinnon, Fitness and Aquatics Program Manager for FMWRC. "Within MWR, fitness facilities remain number one in importance and actual use. It is wonderful when Soldiers enjoy using a facility for recreation, which also helps them with mission readiness. They get two-for-one!"

(Debra Valine works for the Army Corps of Engineers' Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville.)