A posh new fitness center for women is opening in Dorchester.
A building near Dorchester District Court that once housed prisoners has been transformed into a fitness center for women called Healthworks at Codman. The grand opening is scheduled for Jan. 27.
The gym at 450 Washington St. is a partnership between the nonprofit Codman Square Health Center, which owns the building, and Healthworks, a locally owned chain of upscale women's health clubs. Monthly memberships cost between $0 and $30, and patients at the Codman Square Health Center and Dorchester House Multi-Service Center can get prescriptions to work out at the facility for free.
"Many people in middle-class areas use gyms for regular exercise, but gyms are rare in low-income communities," said Codman Square Health Center's CEO, Bill Walczak. "People don't have access to them, or they're too costly."
Healthworks at Codman "is a response to that," he said.
Codman Square Health Center officials hope the new fitness center will become a hub of physical activity in the neighborhood.
And so far, so good: Since the gym's "soft opening" in mid-October, membership has grown to 500 people, according to Mark Harrington, president of Healthworks Fitness Centers for Women, Inc., which operates gyms in the Back Bay, Brookline, Cambridge, Chestnut Hill and Salem.
"We feel that fitness is empowerment for women," said Harrington. "We wanted to create a place where they can feel at home, a safe environment where they feel comfortable."
The 9,000-square-foot fitness facility is located inside a single-story building at the intersection of Washington and Park streets, in the heart of Codman Square. The building which dates back to the 1920s, once housed a car dealership and an auto garage. In the '80s it became an annex building for Dorchester District Court.
The building recently got a $600,000 makeover and was turned into a state-of-the-art fitness center.
Today, the interior walls of the place are painted in subdued shades of yellow, orange, and green. Treadmills and elliptical machines are arranged in neat rows in the spacious, sun-filled main exercise area. Using gleaming new Life Fitness strength machines that line the perimeter of the room, women can do circuit exercises like leg extensions and seated leg curls.
Music pumps out of Bose speakers in the group exercise studio, where members can take classes in yoga, African dance, tai chi, and cardio kickboxing.
A huge window fills the space where a garage door once stood, and sunlight pours into the 2,500-square-foot co-ed youth gymnasium that is outfitted with cutting-edge interactive games. There's a wall at each end of the gym where kids can throw basketballs at targets that light up, and XerDance pads that children use to practice their dance moves on, while watching images of themselves projected on a wall.
A teaching kitchen is slated to open in the fitness center this spring. The plan is to hold cooking classes there, according to Walczak. (Fund-raising for the kitchen is still going on.
Healthworks at Codman is open to all women and children, and its membership dues are much lower than the monthly fees at other Healthworks locations, which average around $90. Discounts are also available, on a sliding scale, based on the individual's income. Kids can join for free.
Dr. Ethan Brackett, the health center's medical liaison to the gym, said physicians at the Codman Square Health Center write exercise "prescriptions" for patients suffering from diabetes, obesity, hypertension, and other conditions, and they get to work out for free. Brackett said the gym helps medical professionals "reach beyond the health center" and fills a void in this low-income neighborhood where "there aren't enough supermarkets, just convenience stores on every corner and fast food."
The new gym is staffed by Healthworks employees and is a project of the Codman Square Health Center and the Healthworks Foundation, a charitable organization created by the health club company in 1998.
Healthworks at Codman is the Healthworks Foundation's second foray into Dorchester. In January 2002 the Healthworks Foundation opened a 3,500-square-foot fitness center in Uphams Corner to serve homeless and low-income women and teenage mothers from St. Mary's Women and Children's Center.
"We wanted to be part of the community. We wanted to give back," said Harrington. "Dorchester is a great community. There are people of means here, and there are people who aren't of means. When you bring them all together in one place, where everyone is in gym shorts and T-shirts, it doesn't matter who you are."
Healthworks at Codman is open Monday through Thursday from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon. For more information, visit www.healthworksfoundation.org/codman or call 617-825-2800.
Emily Sweeney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.