Inside Stories

InsideChelmsford: Fitness on the Syllabus

by Chris O’Donnell

CHELMSFORD – With any luck, the classes of 2028 through 2031 and beyond just might be some of the fittest to ever graduate from Chelmsford High School.

The students (and staff) at the McCarthy and Parker middle schools now have all the means.

New fitness centers at each middle school officially opened Tuesday, Aug. 29, and feature an array of exercise equipment that could rival some high schools. It was the collaboration of Katie Simes, the Health Education, Physical Education and Consumer Sciences coordinator at Chelmsford Schools, and Director of Facilities Brian Curley as well as their collective staff.

The completion of the two fitness centers required different paths, the most significant at McCarthy, which had been an unused women’s locker room and needed substantial renovation. The idea was launched roughly two years ago, when physical education educator John Sherlock approached Ms. Simes about converting the women’s locker room.

Despite the layout – showers, lockers, stalls, and clutter that had built up through the years – Ms. Simes remembers evaluating the space and seeing the possibilities. Mr. Curley and Mr. Sherlock did also.

“The shower stalls were being used for storage,” quipped Ms. Simes, who requested and was approved for one-time funds from Superintendent Dr. Jay Lang and the Chelmsford School Committee. The renovations for McCarthy began in April and involved extensive plumbing, floor leveling, technological adjustments, and painting.

While there are still minor tweaks to be completed, the project remained on pace to open the first week of school. Within 72 hours beginning Monday, Aug. 21, the floor was leveled, rubber turf was applied, and the equipment was rolled out.

“I’m amazed at how quick it was,” said Mr. Sherlock. “It looks like it took a lot longer than it did.”

On Thursday, Aug. 24, Ms. Simes and McCarthy staff members gave tours to new and current students and their families. “Watching them walk in was pretty cool,” Ms. Simes said. “The parents were in shock. We’re really happy with the way it came out.”

Mr. Sherlock sees a wealth of possibilities. “This year with the middle school at grades 7 and 8, I have three sections of electives, and we’re going to be doing weight training and fitness,” he said. “We’ll also teach it to other classes as a three-week unit.”

Mr. Sherlock also said there is also discussion of forming an afternoon club. “Qall sports now require weight training,” he said. “The earlier you get kids in and teach them proper form and technique, the better.”

The Parker Middle School already had a fitness center, albeit crowded with outdated stationary bicycles, treadmills, and rusted weights that had been donated and/or handed down through the years. Nonetheless, Ms. Simes was able to donate most of the old gear to make way for the new.

“Parker was finished in two phases,” she explained. “I had some money in my budget at the end of the schoolyear to purchase a few new things, and the rest came from the one-time funding.”

Perhaps the best features of the new fitness centers are that they use little power and require minimal upkeep. “I have a maintenance budget,” Ms. Simes said. “For what we have, I don’t foresee much maintenance for either space other than batteries and minor things that might need to be serviced.”

Though each fitness center differs slightly to match the ages of its student body – Parker houses students grades 5 and 6 while McCarthy is home to grades 7 and 8 – each has an impressive assortment of equipment:

  • Assault treadmills, self-guided which run on a ‘D’ battery
  • Concept 2 Erg rowing machines, also battery powered
  • At McCarthy, two weight training stations with various plates, six portable benches and a chin-up bar
  • At Parker, two adjustable weight/squat racks with portable benches and plates
  • Dumbbell and kettlebell racks with medicine balls and roll-out wheels
  • At McCarthy, a twenty-yard straightaway area for low hurdle and ladder exercises, plyometrics and stretching. At Parker, ample room in the middle for the aforementioned
  • Battery rope and TRX stations throughout the room
  • Bluetooth-enabled televisions and sound systems

Faculty and staff members at each school only need to complete a waiver to use the fitness centers.

“There are already 40 staff members from McCarthy and 25 from Parker who have filled out waivers,” Ms. Simes said. “Ultimately, we would love for staff to be using the fitness centers before and after school, the physical education teachers and classes using during the day, and clubs and activities after school.”

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