Stepping into the place, it’s hard to imagine it used to be a locker room.
Hardwood floors, a fresh coat of paint and workout equipment make the space inviting in a way many gyms aren’t.
About 40 adults with disabilities use this remodeled area in the old Butte Central boys’ school on Mercury Street; it opened about six months ago, said Todd Hoar, director of the Silver Bow Developmental Disabilities Council.
People from Special Olympics and Family Outreach, among other groups, use the gym to learn the skills to get fit.
Hoar said it’s not any one organization’s gym — it’s everyone’s. And it’s free and open to any adult with disabilities.The gears started turning in 2004 when council staff observed a niche needed to be filled for local adults with disabilities.
“We knew parents were having a difficult time trying to make ends meet working and keeping their (adult children with disabilities) out of trouble,” Hoar said.
The original plans for a sort of clubhouse for adults with disabilities waned when money couldn’t be found. The council then acquired 11 exercise machines — simple to use yet physically challenging — from a gym that shut down.
“We had that equipment in storage for almost two years wondering what to do with it and how to start some kind of a program,” Hoar said.
That’s when space in the old Butte Central at 305 W. Mercury St. became available.
“It was kind of a no-brainer,” Hoar said.
Ideas continue to grow. This year, if money allows, the council wants to open a nutrition education station, which will offer a cooking area and cooking, nutrition and health classes. Independent living specialist Weightman said they’re looking for five different stations, which will go into one of the old handball courts off the main gym.
With more money, Hoar said they also hope to expand open gym hours.
The gym program has helped many Butte-area residents with disabilities get comfortable exercising — so much so that the council has already paid for 12 memberships to the Butte YMCA, possibly more, Hoar said.
“It’s more to build confidence,” he said. “We’ve already seen that.”
Weightman said at a recent conference attendees were impressed with the gym and plans for a nutrition center.
“It’s not duplicated in many places,” Weightman said. “That’s what’s so cool.”
Piper Haugan is a reporter for The Montana Standard in Butte, Mont. Reprinted with permission.