Both new and incumbent Crystal Lake Park District candidates say they’re open to acquiring fitness center

Cost is the primary concern raised by all five candidates

The Northwestern Medicine Crystal Lake Health and Fitness Center informed members late last month it would be closing on Dec. 30, 2022.

Every candidate running in the April election for a seat on the Crystal Lake Park District Board – three first time candidates and two incumbents – said they supported a potential acquisition of the former Northwestern Medicine Fitness Center in Crystal Lake.

They all shared one significant concern, however: Cost.

“Everybody thinks it’s a good idea,” said board member Jason Heisler, who along with board President Cathy Cagle is running for reelection. “I get why people think it’s a good fit. But it does require a lot of money. I don’t know if the taxpayer is going to want to pay for it, but it’s up to them.”

Many of the facility’s amenities, including swimming pools and tracks, were listed as a priority during the district’s community survey in August, Cagle said

Dozens of community members petitioned the Crystal Lake Park District during their meeting on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022, to look into purchasing the Northwestern Medicine gym due to close at the end of the year.

After the fitness center announced it would be closing at the end of last year, a number of residents lobbied the park board at its November meeting, asking park district leaders to consider acquiring the facility, pointing to its warm-water pool as a unique asset.

Park District Executive Director Jason Herbster told the Northwest Herald on Tuesday that they were “still looking into” the potential acquisition.

One of the residents at that meeting was Navy veteran John Pletz, who is now running for a seat on the board; Pletz said he was moved by the stories of people using the pool for therapy and recovering from health issues, but he said a number of questions haven’t yet been answered.

“I’m in favoring of continuing a conversation with Northwestern,” Pletz said. “But how are we going to pay for it? Why was the facility closed? What major repairs are needed? How to we get staff to return? There’s due diligence needed.”

In addition to Pletz, the two other first-time candidates include Mike Jacobson, a retired science teacher, and Brandon Rogalski, a director for Power Construction.

Jacobson said that while gathering signatures for his candidacy, he heard from a number of residents who expressed sadness the fitness center was gone, and said it would be a “nice” solution for the district to take it over.

Rogalski said normally he does not support government-run businesses competing against other existing businesses, but if the fitness center had assets like a warm-water pool that can’t be found elsewhere in the community, it made sense to explore the acquisition.

Debbie Gallagher, the only incumbent not running again, said she supported the park district doing “due diligence” on a possible fitness center acquisition.

The election is April 4.