School Fitness Center Aims To Strengthen Students and Community Relationship


Fitness trainer Valerie Donaghue at the new Fitness Center at Gifft Hill School.

Those who have been without a gym since Hardware Abs closed its Marketplace doors a month ago can look forward to pumping iron at a new fitness center by next week.

The Fitness Center at Gifft Hill School, a 1,700-square-foot space well-equipped with weight machines, free weights, balance and strengthening equipment, medicine balls and an exercise bike, will be unveiled to the community during an open house Saturday, November 6, from 9 a.m. to noon.

“I’m very excited about this project,” said Valerie Donaghue, a fitness trainer on St. John since 2005, who is organizing the project. “This will allow my clients and members of the community who have lost the gym to continue to train and be healthy.”



The fitness center will not only offer affordable gym memberships to the public, but Donaghue said it will fulfill additional goals for the school — giving back and connecting with the community and creating new opportunities for its students.

The new fitness center seems to have evolved out of good timing and circumstance. Ken Heenan, the private school’s new dean of its upper campus, stumbled upon the donated equipment that had been stored in a container shortly after his arrival in mid-July.

“I asked about the containers and was told one of them had fitness equipment inside,” Heenan said. “When I finally located the key and did an assessment, my eyes almost popped out of my head.”

With an undergraduate degree in sports medicine and rehabilitation, Heenan instantly recognized the value of the equipment and met with school officials to get his vision underway. Postponed by torrential rains and severe storms, Heenan, Penn Construction, Andrew Barlas and a handful of the school’s upperclassman transported the equipment to the downstairs space by mid-September and middle and high school students were utilizing it by mid-October.

“Our goal at Gifft Hill all along was to make this project educational and physical,” said Heenan.

Long-term plans include creating internship opportunities in business management and fitness at the center as part of the school’s vocational training to inspire older students to go to college, earn degrees and perhaps one day return to the facility as instructors, he said.

While GHS students, faculty and alumni will be able to use the fitness center free of charge, the school is offering memberships to the community for $40 per month — a structured fee that will be funneled directly back into the facility to build locker rooms and showers, maintain equipment and purchase additional machines.

During the initial three-month trial period, Donaghue said the facility will be open to the public Monday through Friday from 7 to 11 a.m. and 3:30 to 7 p.m. GHS students will utilize the space for physical education, athletics and sports conditioning from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Donaghue hopes to sign up 50 to 60 members right away and said a few well-known trainers — Jude Woodcock, Chandra Rhymer and Hilroy Francis — are already on board and could begin training clients at the new facility as early as Monday, Nov. 8. Trainers will also have the opportunity to teach morning boot camp classes and work out with their clients on the territory’s only artificial turf field located on the campus.

“I am a firm believer in taking care of ourselves for the long haul,” Heenan said. “To see how our kids respond to physical activity is amazing. And the school itself is trying to bring the community to the school — some people who live on the island have never even been up to this campus.”