Heath is considering ways to drum up membership to the Heath Community Recreation and Fitness Center on Irving-Wick Drive.

Heath is considering ways to drum up membership to the Heath Community Recreation and Fitness Center on Irving-Wick Drive.

"In the past, we've broke even or lost a little bit," said Bob Geller, Heath's director of parks and recreation. "We have lost some members due to the economy."

In 2007, the rec center needed an additional $25,900.28 from the general fund to meet expenses.

Heath Mayor Richard Waugh has suggested giving city employees a reduced membership rate to encourage them to join. He said that would benefit the employees and benefit the city by having healthier workers.

"I think it would be worth it to have reduced price memberships for city employees to encourage every city employee to work out," Waugh said.

Geller said the center has 250 members; 100 of them work at the Central Ohio Aerospace and Technology Center (COATC), the former Newark Air Force Base. The recreation center is on the COATC campus, off Irving-Wick Drive West.

Chris Lawson, the center's director, said the community and COATC tenants use the facility all year. The Boeing Co., one of the companies on campus, holds an annual health fair for employees, for example, and local churches occasionally rent the gymnasium.

Geller said the number or rentals has decreased because local churches and organizations have built their own gymnasiums. The center also had to start paying utility costs to the Heath-Newark-Licking County Port Authority, which manages the COATC, and to Boeing, a tenant in the COATC.

"We never had to pay for the building before," Geller said. "Part of the agreement, since the building is inside the Boeing campus, was that they (Heath-Newark-Licking County Port Authority) paid for the gas and water. In the beginning, there was no air conditioning. We agreed to eventually pay for utilities."

Waugh said it has been a good partnership.

"It's great for the city to get the indoor facility," he said.

Geller agreed.

"It really served its purpose and gave us some indoor recreation," he said.

The city spent about $30,000 to $35,000 on improvements to the center after occupying it. But the majority of that money -- about $20,000 -- was donated by the two local businesses, Geller said.

The center will celebrate its 10-year anniversary in 2009, and Lawson suggested doing an open house in January to promote the facility. He said if the city decides to offer reduced-rate memberships to city employees, the city also could consider encouraging Boeing and other COATC companies to pay for a small portion of memberships if employees join.

Lawson said capacity wouldn't be an issue. The facility has accommodated up to 350 members at one time.

During an Oct. 20 meeting of Heath City Council's parks and recreation committee, Councilman James Watercutter asked if the city should consider a joint membership to the Heath City Water Park and the recreation center. Lawson said that could be a good idea.

When asked if the center competes with any other local fitness facilities, Geller said it doesn't and said the city cooperates with several other facilities, such as the local YMCA.

Lawson said the center costs $324 a year for a single membership paid in full, and the center offers discounts for some insurance programs.

The state recently designated Heath as the only Healthy Ohio Healthy Community in Licking County. The Licking County Health Department nominated Heath for the award. Waugh presented Geller with a plaque for the bronze award during the regular council meeting Oct. 20.

The Healthy Ohio Healthy Community Awards are presented to communities that aim "to improve the quality of life for all residents" in the community and recognize "the outstanding achievements of communities in implementing health-related policies and providing healthy community environments," according to information from the Ohio Department of Health.

Joe Ebel, Licking County health commissioner, said he nominated Heath because "Heath has been proactive in promoting healthy lifestyles and recreational opportunities for its residents. Expansion of the trail system, their investment in the Heath water park and passing a smoke-free workplace ordinance are all examples of Heath's commitment to the health of their residents and visitors."

Lawson first accepted the award Oct. 16. Heath is one of only 21 communities in the state to receive the award for 2008.