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Local opposition to plans to shutter Oneonta fitness center

FoxCare Fitness in Oneonta
Lee Sperling
Photo Provided
FoxCare Fitness in Oneonta

The pandemic has had a lingering effect on businesses, particularly gyms. In Otsego County, COVID-19 was a death knell for a popular fitness center with a huge senior membership.

In late February, Bassett Healthcare Network announced that FoxCare Fitness in Oneonta would permanently close on June 1st. Lee Sperling has been a member of Fox since the facility first opened 24 years ago.

“What happened in February is that we ended up getting announcement that due to budget problems, that Bassett felt that they wanted to close the fitness center and then extend their cardio rehab and their physical therapy that's also part of the fitness cente," Sperling said. "And then we were told that it would be open for about three more months, and then they were going to close.”

Bassett Hospital Network maintained the pandemic had a negative impact on the facility; the decision to close FoxCare Fitness came after a long period of declining membership and pandemic-related "operational challenges."

Sperling points out the membership, 72% people age 50 and up, is nearly 800, and Fox is the largest fitness center in the rural community. Nevertheless, Bassett is looking to re-purpose the gym.

“They said that they were alternatives to what the service they offered in in Oneonta," said Sperling. "And it turns out there really isn't. And what it is, is that they have, there are two other gyms, but they really cater more to a younger crowd and also do not have the facilities that Fox Fitness offers. And then the other alternative for many people who use the therapy pool was to go to the YMCA, but the YMCA does not have the facilities to handle another 790 people coming there.”

Sperling argues the FoxCare site is a "safe and supportive" place with a professional, dedicated staff.

He spearheaded a letter writing campaign to local newspapers and politicians to rally community support to keep the center open, and started a petition drive to try and stop the closure.

“We have over 770 signatures of members and community people to keep the Fox Fitness Center open," Sperling said. "And then we're actually going to have a meeting on Thursday to plan on having a demonstration at the Bassett hospital site in Cooperstown, New York.”

Bassett Healthcare Network originally planned to close the center at the end of May and re-purpose it to serve the community as a central rehabilitation/outpatient facility. Sperling says activists have not heard anything from Bassett about exploring other options.

Spokesperson Gabrielle Argo says Bassett is hearing the concerns.

"Oneonta is a very special community and I've been a resident there most of my life, so I know. Bassett is very aware that the Oneonta community has raised a number of concerns about the closure of FoxCare Fitness," Argo said. "We appreciate our patients and their loved ones taking such an active role in their health journeys and advocating for the space that means so much to them. What I can tell you right now is that Bassett's leadership team is working diligently to find a solution for these concerns. And we do hope to be able to share an update with the public very soon."

Sperling says the effort to keep FoxCare open continues to gain momentum. He expects the Oneonta Town Board will pass a resolution at tonight's monthly meeting supporting the Fitness Center.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.