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Apartment Owners Try To Keep Fitness Centers Safe As Workouts Move Indoors

For most of the coronavirus pandemic, the weather has been warm enough for people to exercise outdoors, running or riding bikes in a way that keeps them safely distanced from others. 

Now, as the cold weather leads people to shift toward indoor exercise options, apartment buildings are preparing for greater usage of their fitness center amenities. 

The treadmills in the fitness center at the RiverPoint apartment building.

Apartment managers have taken a host of safety precautions to make their indoor fitness centers safe for residents, and they say they are seeing strong demand for the spaces as the weather turns cold. In some cases, the number of people seeking to use fitness centers exceeds their allowable capacity under pandemic restrictions, and building owners have turned to reservation systems to schedule workouts. 

"We've put some rules in place to make sure 50 people don't end up in the fitness center at one time," Akridge Chairman Chip Akridge said of the developer's new RiverPoint building. "We're limiting the number of people to about five at a time, and two at a time in the yoga room, and then they need to move on out and let somebody else come in."

For residents that don't feel comfortable sharing a workout space with others during the pandemic, buildings have ramped up their virtual offerings that give residents the ability to take classes from their apartments. And many renters are investing in their own equipment to use in their units, even when there's a fitness center downstairs. 

"You're seeing more treadmills get delivered, bikes getting delivered, Pelotons, a lot of people really did go to the home fitness," Kettler Vice President of Operations Kimberly Ramsey said. "That didn't make it so people weren't using the amenities, but some people preferred to take their fitness in-house."

Bozzuto Regional Vice President Lauren Jarboe said the firm was forced to close down gyms at the beginning of the pandemic due to government restrictions, but opened them back up in July.

"Once we were able to open back up, there was a large demand of people wanting to work out inside," Jarboe said. 

The fitness center at The Kelvin apartment building in D.C.

Bozzuto General Manager Mark Hannan, who manages Jair Lynch's The Kelvin apartment building near Nationals Park, said he has seen an increased demand for treadmills as the weather has gotten colder. 

The building's 2,700 SF gym has four treadmills, and two of them had been closed off to support social distancing. But Hannan said he received multiple requests from residents over the last week to open all of the treadmills, so his team rearranged the gym to allow all four treadmills to be used with proper distancing. 

"It's really just about the space with the best layout of the equipment you have," Hannan said. "Some equipment isn't used as much, so maybe pushing that to an undesirable location or getting rid of it entirely for the time being so you can bring online the important things, the ellipticals, the treadmills, the weight area and providing enough space in those locations."

Ramsey said she hasn't seen a significant influx of fitness center usage in the weeks since the cold weather began, but she attributes that to the Thanksgiving holiday, and she said she is expecting a big surge after New Year's Day. 

"Every year after the holidays, we see everyone start their New Year's resolution, even if it only lasts a few weeks, you always see an increase around that time," she said. "I'd anticipate we see a similar increase this year. I do think there's increased demand."

WC Smith Community Manager Connor Fay, who manages the three-building Capitol Riverfront complex The Collective, said he expects an increase in usage of indoor fitness amenities during the winter. The Collective's third building, The Garrett, recently opened with a full-sized basketball court, a tennis court and a racquetball court, and the complex also has a lap pool, a golf simulator and multiple fitness studios.

"With the temperature drops, the likelihood of people running outside in 30-degree weather is reduced," he said. "While people might be pushed to come inside, we have a ton of different spaces they can use to keep working out through the winter."

Now roughly nine months from the start of the pandemic, these building managers have had time to implement a series of safety precautions for residents that choose to work out indoors. 

The basketball court at WC Smith's The Garrett apartment building, part of the three-building complex The Collective.

At The Collective, Fay said the team has worked to prevent crowding in its larger fitness spaces. The tennis court and racquetball court can only be used by making reservations, and residents must fill out a sign-in sheet to use the basketball court. 

The development's fitness amenities have also been limited to only residents during the pandemic, while previously residents were allowed to bring two guests per apartment. Fay said the remote working trend has also helped reduce crowding. 

"With people working from home more, they're able to spread workout times throughout the day a little more ... rather than the morning and evening rush," Fay said. 

The Collective's management team added a new employee to focus on the fitness amenities, Senior Events and Fitness Coordinator Adam Murphy. Fay said they made the hire because the third building added multiple large fitness spaces and because they are seeing strong demand for the indoor fitness amenities. 

The team has also increased the number of hand-sanitizing stations and wipes in the fitness spaces, and it shuts spaces down periodically throughout the day to allow for more cleaning. It has also reorganized fitness equipment to allow for social distancing, and it has moved yoga classes from the studio to the basketball court. 

The fitness center at the RiverPoint apartment building in D.C.

At RiverPoint, Akridge is preparing to install a product from pathogen control technology company UV Angel in its common areas to kill virus particles and recirculate clean air. 

"That's something we never thought about before the pandemic," Akridge said. "It's an airborne disease, and these units are specifically designed to kill pathogens in the air, so I think they'll be widely accepted as people learn more about them."

The Bozzuto team managing RiverPoint has implemented a reservation system for the building's 2,700 SF fitness center to help maintain its limited capacity. The team has also increased the number of sanitizer stations and wipes. 

In addition to the fitness center, the building has a heated rooftop pool that will allow residents to swim laps when it opens in January, and Akridge highlighted its proximity to public outdoor exercise options such as the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail and the kayaking offerings on the river. 

The yoga studio at The Kelvin apartment building in D.C.

At The Kelvin, in addition to rearranging the equipment in the fitness studio, the Bozzuto team has installed signage reminding people to wear masks, wipe down equipment and keep their distance from others.

The building's fitness center has a capacity limit of 30 people, but Hannan said it rarely has more than 10 people inside at one time. He said some residents are wary of entering when they see too many people in the gym at once. 

"You do get some people not comfortable with certain amounts and decide to come back another time," he said. 

Additionally, the Kelvin team has shifted the budget it had planned for in-person class instructors to virtual workout offerings. The building now offers a series of virtual classes that residents can stream from their apartments. 

"What we did was turn that into a virtual option, which was a money-saver for us, and we were able to offer more virtual classes because we didn't have on-site instructors coming in," Hannan said. 

The plexiglass barriers in between machines at one of Kettler's apartment buildings.

At some of Kettler's buildings, Ramsey said the team has installed plexiglass shields between pieces of workout equipment. She said it has also installed signs reminding residents of health protocols, added more sanitizing stations and wipes, and increased the frequency of cleanings. 

Kettler offered outdoor fitness classes during the warm weather months, and it is now ramping up its virtual fitness classes. 

"We were able to appeal to some of those people that were less comfortable in the indoor environments and indoor amenities, we did see them participate more in the outdoor activities," Ramsey said. "Those were very well-received when the weather was nice this summer, and honestly the weather was great up until about a week ago."