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House Gym Rates Get Pumped Up

Increase to Cover Expansion of Women’s Facilities

After taking over the recently reorganized House gym committee earlier this year, Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii) flexed his newly acquired chairmanship muscle by upping Members’ dues for the House Wellness Center from $100 a year to $240.

But the increase isn’t earmarked for more free weights so Abercrombie can continue to mark each birthday by bench-pressing his age, plus 200 pounds. Instead, the extra money is going toward a planned refurbishment of the Members-only facility and to fund an expansion of space and services for female Members.

“The area where the gym is located is in need of extensive retrofitting,” Abercrombie said, noting the aging fans and piping that fill the Rayburn House Office Building facility. “There have to be some changes made anyway so we thought if we’re going to do that why don’t we take the opportunity to equalize the facility for women.”

Calls for “gym equity” have been raised in the past on the House side, with various Members pointing out inconveniences such as the fact that to get to the pool, women have to use a door that opens to the parking garage while men have direct access from their locker rooms.

As far back as 2001, Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) and then-Rep. Anne Northup (R-Ky.) noted at an Appropriations Committee hearing that the majority of female Members don’t use the House Wellness Center because its resources aren’t evenly distributed.

But Abercrombie noted last week that there’s a “new sense of energy” about making the gym a more equal space.

Recently the gym committee was expanded to include two female co-chairwomen, Reps. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.), to serve alongside Abercrombie and Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.), who chaired the committee in the latter half of the 109th Congress.

Around the time the gym dues were upped in January, the committee asked the Architect of the Capitol to begin drawing up plans to improve the condition of the gym and “study ways to turn the women’s facilities into a 21st century fitness center, which it currently is not,” said LaHood, who talked about the need for such a study last year. “The dues were raised because we needed to do the study and … because it’s going to cost some significant dollars to do what we want to do.”

“About 90 percent of this is expanding locker facilities and access,” Abercrombie said.

LaHood added that the AOC study is expected to be completed by the summer and work would begin after the committee signs off on the upgrades.

A spokeswoman for the AOC noted that until studies and designs are completed, a final cost of the gym renovations could not be predicted.

Abercrombie noted that equalizing access to the House Wellness Center is important, not only because more and more women are serving in Congress, but also because the gym can be one of the few places on Capitol Hill where the pressure of politics can be checked at the door.

“People get along well in there,” he said. “It’s a way to get away from the pressure cooker a little bit and to follow what the Attending Physician is saying about being more health conscious today. … It’s not the old Mr. Universe routine down there.”

Last week Kaptur congratulated Abercrombie on pushing for better equality at the gym as well as pushing the importance of preventative health.

“Mr. Abercrombie will be a great leader on this,” she said.

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