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Bethel receives $9M for a gym expansion at the community fitness center

The Yukon-Kuskokwim Fitness Center in Bethel, photographed in 2014. The empty area in the right area of the photo is where a new community gym will be built.
Geraldine Brink
The Yukon-Kuskokwim Fitness Center in Bethel, photographed in 2014. The empty area in the right area of the photo is where a new community gym will be built.

Bethel’s municipal pool and fitness center sit at the edge of a large swath of tundra – and that was purposeful. The Yukon-Kuskokwim Fitness Center was built to be able to expand.

And thanks to a federal grant of $9 million, passed through to Bethel by the state of Alaska, the city is working toward that expansion now, which will add a gymnasium facility onto the fitness center building.

Bethel City Clerk Lori Strickler said that there are some essential elements: a basketball gym, community rooms, and a community computer lab.

“Our goal is to provide internet access, computer access, printers, for free for the community, and then it will also provide the only community gym space that Bethel would be able to – all residents and visitors at Bethel would be able to use,” Strickler said.

Beyond those basic elements, exactly what the expansion will look like isn’t set in stone. Strickler said that the original design for the gym was estimated to cost around $18 million, double the funding that the city has been able to find.

“It also included a sauna and additional fitness rooms. So it wasn't the traditional square gym that many people would think of. It had many corners,” Strickler explained. “So with only $9 million, we're unsure of what the result will be. But it will include community spaces, for games, socializing, it will have a computer lab, and it will provide gym space, a gymnasium for basketball, volleyball, the general playtime activities.”

Other elements of the facility, like additional locker rooms and bathrooms, or that sauna, or a walking track above the gym, will be designed as optional elements to fit within the funding constraints.

“Hopefully by the end of fall we'll have a better idea of what the size is going to be,” Strickler said. “But regardless, there'll be a safe, warm space for people to play in year-round. And to provide social opportunity that this community is sometimes lacking.”

The $9 million grant comes on top of an initial $500,000 grant from the state of Alaska to fund the facility’s design. Strickler said that the money has to be spent by the end of 2026, which doesn’t give a lot of wiggle room for rural construction. But, she said, it’s an important community project.

“I know plenty of people that like to go outside and play, but the kids – it will be nice to have a roof over their head so they can shoot some hoops and play some volleyball outside of the school sponsored events, so we're excited,” Strickler said.

Strickler said that the city has applied for another $4 million in funding for the project: $2 million from The Denali Commission and $2 million from Alaska’s Congressional delegation through Sen. Lisa Murkowski's office. But they won’t know for months whether those applications are successful.

By this fall, Strickler said that the city hopes to have the facility designed and put together a request for proposals to start construction in order to meet that 2026 funding deadline.

Updated: May 30, 2024 at 2:43 PM AKDT
This article has been updated with additional information.
Sage Smiley is KYUK's news director.