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Arnold AFB Fitness Center powers its way into fourth decade

The court inside in the Arnold Air Force Base Fitness Center is not only used for pickup games of basketball, it is also used for many of the exercise programs offered at the facility. A ribbon cutting ceremony to mark the official opening of the facility occurred on Oct. 1, 1990. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The court inside in the Arnold Air Force Base Fitness Center is not only used for pickup games of basketball, it is also used for many of the exercise programs offered at the facility. A ribbon cutting ceremony to mark the official opening of the facility occurred on Oct. 1, 1990. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The Arnold Air Force Base Fitness Center, pictured, has been in operation for 30 years this month. A ribbon cutting ceremony to mark the official opening of the facility occurred on Oct. 1, 1990. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The Arnold Air Force Base Fitness Center, pictured, has been in operation for 30 years this month. A ribbon cutting ceremony to mark the official opening of the facility occurred on Oct. 1, 1990. (U.S. Air Force photo)

ARNOLD AIR FORCE BASE, Tenn. --

For the past 30 years, the Arnold Air Force Base Fitness Center has been a destination for those looking to whip themselves into shape.

The official opening of the Arnold AFB Fitness Center was marked with a ribbon cutting ceremony on Oct. 1, 1990. While both the size of the facility and the number of activities offered were relatively lean at that time, it wouldn’t be long before work was done to help the center bulk up. This paved for the way for the center to house a wider variety of exercise equipment and provide space for center staff to offer a broader array of fitness programs to its users.

Upon completion of its construction, the Arnold Fitness Center was comprised of one basketball court and a 1,642-square-foot room located upstairs for strength, conditioning and cardio activities.

Ronald Stephenson, now a contractor at Arnold AFB, worked in the Fitness Center in various capacities over the course of 27 years. He began his stint there in 1991 and served as the center director from around 2000 to 2018.

“During my tenure, the Fitness Center grew from 1,642 square feet of exercise area to its current over 4,000 square feet with the incredible help of then Lt. Col. John Laviolette who, at the time, was Base Civil Engineering commander and was directly responsible for getting the additional funding for the new square footage and all the upgrades you see currently,” Stephenson said.

Aside from this expansion, which included the addition of a 3,200-square-foot strength and conditioning exercise room, upgrades completed over the years have included the installation of new lighting throughout the center and the replacement of the basketball court with subsequent refinishes. 

Laviolette, now a civilian employee in Arnold AFB Base Civil Engineering, said more space was needed within the Fitness Center to accommodate an ever-increasing number of exercise enthusiasts.

“For military, civilians or contractor personnel, being physically fit is an important aspect of the Air Force culture,” Laviolette said. “Over the years, the Fitness Center personnel grew their programs to fit the needs of base personnel and the military retirees in the local area, and it became obvious that a larger facility was needed.”

Laviolette said project programmers within Base Civil Engineering worked quickly to develop a project to expand the Fitness Center. Eventually, the undertaking was funded through the Construction Task Order Program managed by the Air Force Civil Engineer Center.

“That additional space certainly helped the Fitness Center staff to alleviate congestion, expand their programs and to provide state-of-the-art conditioning equipment for base personnel,” he said.

The Arnold Fitness Center is open to DOD employees and retirees, active duty service members from all military branches, military retirees, and civilian contractors across Arnold AFB. The center is typically open 5 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 1:30 to 7:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays.

However, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has impacted Fitness Center operations. Currently, authorized users are able to utilize the facility through appointments only and group exercises class have been temporarily curtailed. Users are subjected to screening questions upon entry, and there is no locker room access at this time.

While the pandemic has somewhat dampened facility usage, it has not stopped Laviolette and others from considering how to grow the Arnold Fitness Center.

“Despite that challenge, we’re still looking toward the future and working to obtain additional dedicated space to accommodate group classes without taking over the basketball court,” Laviolette said. “It’s unclear when the project might be funded, but we’ll keep the need in the forefront so the Fitness Center can better execute their fitness programs.”