PORT HAWKESURY: The new operator of the fitness centre has officially taken over.

Following the regular monthly meeting of Port Hawkesbury Town Council on Jan. 5, Chief Administrator Officer Terry Doyle confirmed that BODY `N SOUL+ took over the gym on New Year’s Day.

“We’re very excited to be working with this new partner,” Doyle stated. “The new partner has an emphasis on the community, and really want this fitness centre to evolve, and not just be an area for body-building and the typical things you see in a gym, but become more involved in working with town recreation and helping us develop programs that are really not just centred exclusively around that facility but can be multi-faceted and really help us with active, healthy living for our community and surrounding areas.”

Mayor Brenda Chisholm-Beaton is happy to see a new operator for the well-used fitness centre.

“We have a private business who will be running and operating that fitness centre, and will potentially be looking at programming and doing all sorts of thinking outside-the-box things,” she said. “It’s really exciting. We’d like to support that new business and we hope that they will be hugely successful in the years to come, and citizens of the town, and surrounding region, will support them so that we can have a perfectly viable and sustainable fitness centre.”

The mayor added that this change will free up town resources.

“It will assist us in terms of having to bear the load of staffing that facility, and any other types of finances that could be incurred on that property,” she added. “Having a private business take that on, is definitely going to take some of the financial, but also, staff burden off of the shoulders of the town. It will free-up some of our time to be able to look at other items and other exciting projects.”

Jens Blecker, owner of BODY `N SOUL+ said discussions started in June, and after delays due to COVID-19, the final negotiations took place in October, then the request for proposals were issued, and they found out late in November.

While they waited to take it over, Blecker said an interior designer worked to make the facility cozier, they installed new software since the gym was running on the town’s operating system, the new owners switched over television and internet accounts, they found employees, and prepared the machines and lockers for the opening.

According to a press release sent from the town last fall, the new goals of the new owners include catering to users of all ages and abilities, creating a health and fitness centre in cooperation with members, and the town wants a greater emphasis on getting and staying healthy.

Although they are in the process of setting up the gym, the new owner said their intent is to provide more services and programs, and hire more instructors and personal trainers.

The town said recreation and relaxation will also play a major role.

Blecker said one of the racquetball courts can be turned into a wellness area to offer yoga for seniors and he is looking at new attractions like water jet massages.

The bundling of fitness options, which includes access to public skates, public swims and classes will be priced similar to what is offered now, the town said, noting that for those looking for a more complete gym experience, new enhanced gym membership packages will be developed.

Blecker said they hope to offer similar rates to members, and are tinkering with a new price system.

To adhere to provincial health guidelines, the gym adjusted its floor plan to ensure social distancing can be maintained during classes, the town stated, noting that staff will continue to implement increased hygiene protocols throughout the day, in addition to professional cleaning each night.

Blecker said the town will still do the majority of cleaning, while they will concentrate on cleaning machines and locker rooms.

The town said it will honour all existing gym memberships under the new management plan. In addition, interested persons can now register under: bnsoul@jayb-s.com.

Earlier this year, users and town officials were shocked to learn about the sudden departure of the Cape Breton YMCA as the gym’s operator.

The YMCA Board of Directors voted on Jan. 28, to close their Port Hawkesbury branch. The vote was made following an extensive review of the branch’s financial standing and increasing operational expenses.

The town said it would keep it open since it owns the bulk of the equipment, and because of its concern for the health of residents.

Late in February, the gym facility re-opened under the management of town staff.

Members were eligible for a fitness pass with allowed access to the gym equipment, attend fitness classes, take part in public swims at the Strait Area Pool, lace up for public skates at the civic centre, and to participate in basketball, pickle ball, and badminton at the SAERC gym.

While it was closed, the fitness centre underwent a spring cleaning and was spruced up with new paint and a newly waxed floor.

Then on Aug. 4, the fitness centre re-opened after being closed due to COVID-19. All memberships were extended from the Mar. 15 closure and new memberships were available.