Metro gym paid for by tax dollars, restricted access - WSMV Channel 4

Metro gym paid for by tax dollars, restricted access

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NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

Your tax dollars paid for it, but you can't use it. Neither can most Metro employees.

It's a state of the art Metro government gym, available to only a fraction of Metro employees. In fact, not even most Metro Council members knew it existed.

It's hard to argue against encouraging good health, but critics said their tax dollars should not be used as a perk for only certain Metro employees, employees who don't have to pay for a gym membership because you've already paid for it.

State of the art treadmills, ellipticals, weight machines and flat screen TV's: for select Metro employees it's all free, but not for you or thousands of other Metro employees or Metro Council members. In fact, you can't even get in to see it.

At a time when Metro is slashing budgets, the Channel 4 I-Team uncovered a taxpayer funded gym, but you won't find gyms like this in any other Metro building. Only the roughly 700 employees at the Fulton Complex can get access, and it's off limits for more than 8,000 Metro employees including Metro teacher Angela Cernyar.

"I think the funds could definitely be better used. I am a teacher, so I think we can use them in other places," said Cernyar.

We talked to several people who work outside the Fulton Complex on 2nd Avenue South.

Most had no idea the gym existed, but when we showed them video of it and told them they paid for it they wanted in.

"If we are really pushing the idea of fitness and health then it should be open to everyone," said tax payer Chondrah Holmes.

"I didn't even know it existed," said Sarah Silkwood.

Another person shocked by the existence of this gym: Councilman at Large Charlie Tygard.

"I really feel a little bit deceived on that issue," said Tygard.

Tygard remembers approving plans to renovate the Fulton Complex. But he said the council never knew about specific plans to build this gym, again, built only for select employees.

"Did you know this existed?" asked the Channel 4 I-Team.

"Did not realize that this was part of the Fulton proposal, no," said Tygard.

In fact, the Channel 4 I-Team first told Tygard about the gym.  Tygard wanted to see it for himself. But he, to, couldn't go in, until the complex found an escort for him.  He took us along.

"It's still got the new car smell to it," said Tygard as he entered the gym.

Next, we filed records requests to learn who paid for it and how much it cost. City General Services told us there is no way to know the exact cost for the entire gym. But we did learn the equipment alone cost $60,000, all funded by tax dollars.

"Why build a state of the art gym at a time when the city is under economic strain?" asked , with the Channel 4 I-Team.

"Well one of the things we are doing in Nashville is we're promoting a healthy workplace," said Metro General Services Director Nancy Whittemore.

Among those who can use it, Whittemore.  Her department is located inside the Fulton Complex. Tygard thought he'd try to get access.

"I applied to have my card activated to get in there," said Tygard.

But he was denied.

"Most government employees don't have that access, so we're providing a fringe benefit to some employees, but not all employees," said Tygard.

Whittemore said they limit access because the gym is not big enough for all of Metro's employees.

"It's the size of the facility. It has 20 something pieces of equipment, and that's the main reason for the restricted access," said Whittemore.

Whittemore points out there are other gyms funded by tax dollars, so we went to go see them.

The gym at the Hermitage police precinct consists only of a treadmill in the kitchen. The gym inside the Juvenile Justice Center is a few machines, but they're only for the offenders. The gym at the East police precinct has 6 pieces of equipment. The new gym has 24 pieces of equipment. And newly built West precinct comes closest to the Fulton Complex's gym with 17 pieces of new equipment. 

Tygard and dozens of other tax payers we spoke with said the disparity in these gyms and the new gym sends the wrong message to Metro employees.

"I think it's just a blatant disrespect of tax payers," said Quincy Jackson.

"It should not be just for the elite," said Lila Kathleen Mitchell.

"If we as a government feel like this is a priority and something the money should be spent on should we have more centrally located facilities and open them up to everyone," said Tygard.

Of those 700 employees who can use the gym, Metro records show only about half have shown up to use it so far.

"I think we need a better policy, and we need to have a discussion as a government as to priorities and better planning," said Tygard.

We contacted Mayor Karl Dean's office about this gym. But they re-directed all of our questions back to the director of Metro general services, Whittemore.

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