You can lead a state worker to the gym, but you can't make him exercise.
Thus is the lesson so far at the new Capitol fitness center, which opened in February in the basement of the government building.
It's not uncommon to see two or three employees, usually women, running the treadmills or working the elliptical machine in the small gym during the morning, lunch and evening hours, but for the most part the center is unoccupied.
And despite the closure last summer of the smoking room just down the hallway, it's not uncommon now to see state workers huddled together in smoke-filled cars in the Capitol parking lot or the occasional stray puffer hiding behind the bushes on the building's lawn.
Who's using it?
Rep. Jeannie McDaniel, D-Tulsa, said she's a regular runner who now enjoys the fitness center on rainy days or when she's stuck at work late.
Sometimes she sticks around after the House recesses and cross-trains in the fitness center while she watches the Oklahoma City Thunder play basketball on TV.
“To be honest, though, the saddest thing to me is I've never seen more than two people at a time use it,” she said.
Cindy Parker and A.J. Mallory, both of whom work in the governor's office, spent their lunch hour Wednesday running on the center's treadmills.
Parker, director of operations for Gov. Mary Fallin, said she works out in the fitness center at least three times a week and often sees two or three others in there at the same time.
“If we're going to try to encourage other people to do it, then we should be on board to do it, too,” she said. “And it really has been good for a lot of people; I know a lot of people who use it that really don't exercise otherwise.”
Fallin's spokesman, Alex Weintz, said the opening of the new Capitol fitness center is a statement on the importance of good health, especially in a state that ranks among the least healthy in the nation.
United Health Foundation this spring ranked Oklahoma 43rd in overall health factors for 2012 and 47th in terms of the number of smokers in the state.
“Reducing smoking and raising awareness about the dangers of smoking is one of the most important things we can do as a state government to improve the health of our state and our citizens,” Weintz said. “It was meant, among other things, to generate a conversation and serve as an example about the kinds of changes we hope Oklahomans make in their daily lives.”
From office to gym
As of mid-April, 204 Capitol workers had gone through orientation at the fitness center and received an electronic badge to access its confines.
The facility is free to anyone who works full-time at the Capitol, and in addition to lawmakers, staff and officials the list of badge-owners includes the basement barber and at least one reporter.
The conversion from appellate court clerk's office to micro-gym, however, was not cheap.
Despite donations of several expensive workout machines, the state spent more than $42,000 to outfit the facility — and its associated shower/locker room area — with stationary bicycles, benches, stretching mats, cleaning wipes, a heart rate target poster, mirrors, a first aid kit and more.
Actual construction costs topped $100,000, but grants from the Oklahoma Hospital Association and the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust shaved almost $60,000 off the bill.
The center currently costs nearly $700 per month in janitorial services, cable for three TVs and to keep a security phone line active, said John Estus, spokesman for the Office of Management and Enterprise Services.
Another $4,000 total was spent renovating the old smoking room, which needed to be scrubbed and painted, its ceiling tiles replaced and new heat pumps, ducts and grills installed, he said.
A plan to start charging users $15 a month will allow the state to recoup all its costs for both the fitness center and smoking room projects in about three years, he said.
Though he doesn't use the fitness center, Tim Allen, spokesman for the state treasurer's office, said the conversion project has already made his lifestyle a bit healthier.
Allen said he quit smoking cigarettes after the smoke room was closed and he was relegated to his car in the parking lot.
“The other reason was because my health insurance was going to charge me a larger deductible if I didn't quit, but it was a big factor,” he said of the change.
“I run into some of the other smokers in the hall every once in a while and we say, ‘How are you?' but yeah, that group has disbanded — or at least I'm not a part of it anymore.”