FORT POLK, La. -- If you think Wheelock Fitness Center's closure for renovations will be an inconvenience for those who maintain a high level of physical fitness, think again.

Not only has the Directorate of Family Morale, Welfare and Recreation secured the services of four gyms on post, but when the renovations are complete, Fort Polk will be home to some of the finest fitness facilities in the Army inventory.

"We've got three main areas we're working on with this project," said Ricky Jones, engineer tech, Fort Polk's Directorate of Public Works. "We're replacing Wheelock's heating and air conditioning, the roof and lighting. Everything else will be cosmetic, like ceiling tiles and ceramic tiles in bathrooms and showers. When the project is completed, Wheelock will be completely refurbished."

Jones said that currently there are five large HVAC (heating, ventilating, and air conditioning) units servicing the fitness center. "They are not energy efficient," he said. "We're going to replace them with more efficient units. One will be on the outside of the building and four on the inside. Right now, all five are on the outside."

The current lighting at Wheelock will be replaced by LED (light-emitting diodes) lighting.
"LED lighting is the best product you can get for energy efficiency," Jones said. "The lighting alone will save the post $20,000 annually in electricity." Not only does the old lighting soak up energy, its not user-friendly, Jones said. "The new lights will come on when you turn them on," he said. "The old ones take 20-30 minutes to warm up before they come on."

When coupled with renovations two years ago that added an indoor running track and mirrors in the exercise area, Wheelock Fitness Center will be one of the finest fitness facilities on Army posts, said Don Davis, chief, DFMWR's Community Recreation Division.

"That fits in with DFMWR's goal to provide the best services available to the Soldiers, Families, civilians and retirees at the 'Home of Heroes,'" Davis said.

To continue providing top-notch venues for FMWR-authorized users while Wheelock is renovated, Davis said his office has secured the use of four post gyms: Cantrell and 1st Maneuver Enhancement Brigade gyms on South Fort and 162nd Infantry Brigade and Operations Group gyms on North Fort. "We've extended the hours at both Cantrell and 1st MEB to cover the times Wheelock was open," Davis said. "We didn't lose any of exercise classes that were held at Wheelock and we will still provide the same quality of service."

Victoria Clark, DFMWR fitness specialist who oversees the exercise classes at Cantrell, said classes are up and running and filling fast. "Cantrell Gym is a great location, especially for people who like to work with weights and run," she said. "After your weight training in the gym, you can cross the street and run the golf course track, then come back to the gym and shower. It's very user friendly."

Clark said seven personal trainers are on hand for those who wish to develop a customized exercise program. "Our trainers are not tied to Cantrell Gym," she said. "They can go to any of the other three gyms and work with clients."

Although the indoor track at Wheelock will not be available until renovations are complete, there are plenty of ways to "commit to be fit" at Fort Polk, Clark said. "Every month, the fitness center conducts promotions that make working out fun and exciting," she said. "If you like to work out on your own, Cantrell Fitness Center has everything you need. If you want to play racquetball, the center has two courts and the locker room area includes showers, scales and a co-ed sauna."
Clark said there are plenty of running venues on Fort Polk.

"Honor Field has a 1-mile track, the golf course track is 2.15 miles, North Fort has an 8-mile track and there is a 400-meter track by the 1st MEB combatives pit," she said. "So there are plenty of places to run if you would rather not use treadmills."

Another benefit for the Fort Polk community during Wheelock's renovation has to do with Allen Memorial Library. During the fitness center's closure, the Gator Store and Leisure Travel Services are located in the library. In addition to a wide array of nutritional drinks and snacks, the Gator Store also sells coffee.

"It will be great for those attending classes at the Education Center," Jones said. "They'll be able to enjoy a cup of coffee during class breaks without having to leave the center."

Once renovations are complete, Wheelock will again become Fort Polk's fitness headquarters. Work has already begun; to date, Wheelock's floor has been covered with wood and the fitness equipment with plastic to protect it from being damaged during construction. Work is expected to be completed - barring weather delays or modifications - by Nov. 16. "We understand there will be some who are going to wish that Wheelock was still open," Jones said. "But we've done everything we can to lessen the impact on those who used the fitness center. We still have all of our classes and trainers, we still have plenty of equipment and with four venues, there should be a gym near most housing areas."

Jones said parking rules have even been relaxed to facilitate the use of Cantrell Gym.
"Gym users can park on both Mississippi and Alabama avenues," Jones said. "We want to make this as painless as possible for the best Soldiers and Families in the Army."