Lewiston – Racquetball courts at Central Maine Athletic Center will be eliminated to make way for an expansion of the Andy Valley School of Gymnastics and a new cheering program.

George Gendron, who owns the property and two businesses with his son, Rodney, said removing the courts was the best decision financially. The gymnastics school is expanding tremendously, Gendron said, while enrollment in racquetball clubs is diminishing nationwide and statewide.

The decision leaves racquetball-playing members disappointed. Some are scrambling to find court times out of town, while others are looking for ways to get new courts in the Lewiston-Auburn area.

“There may be enough interest for people to pool their money together” to build new courts, said Dick Gleason, a radio station owner and member of Central Maine Athletic Center since moving to Auburn seven years ago.

“There are all kinds of people interested – we can probably raise a couple hundred thousand dollars.”

He has already approached Jim Bennett, Lewiston’s city administrator, on the topic. Bennett agreed to meet with Gleason in the coming weeks to brainstorm options that might be available from the city’s perspective.

Although Bates College has courts, people outside the college community have to be members of Health Steps in order to use them, and they are only available from 6 a.m. to noon, Gleason said, adding that the hours are out of sync with most people’s habits. He usually plays nights and weekends. The only other options are driving to Topsham or Portland, he said.

By adding the former court space to the gymnastics school, Andy Valley will be able to take on 100 new students and will expand its kinder-gym program, according to Gendron. And it will allow room for Planet Cheer, which will lease 2,000 square feet of space for its cheering program.

“They complement each other,” Gendron said of the two schools.

Gendron bought the building on Westminster Street six years ago and moved the gymnastics school – then in Auburn – into the facility.

“I did that for my son, who graduated from Ohio State,” where he attended on a full-boat scholarship in gymnastics, Gendron said. “It’s important for us to have our kids close to us.”

Although Gendron gave the opportunity to his son, he noted that it was his son’s decision to come back to Lewiston.

The gymnastics facility is also used for birthday parties, baby showers and small anniversary parties, Gendron said. Its big blow-up castle with tunnels and slides, along with the facility’s rings and trampolines, is extremely popular with kids.

Central Maine Athletic Center will continue offering the use of its cardio equipment, free-weights and Nautilus equipment, but will not hold aerobics classes, Gendron said.

“We were thinking of closing the whole thing,” Gendron said, “but we had a lot of members interested in keeping the cardio open.”

Past membership was about 250 people, Gendron said, and about 40 percent of members joined the club for the racquetball. Gendron hopes that 145 to 150 people will continue to support the club.

“We’re bringing the prices down,” Gendron said, adding that it was formerly one price for everything.

Most of the staff positions will be eliminated as the club makes the move to an electronic key entry system. However, the hours will be expanded to allow members to use the facility from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m.

“We’re very excited. It’s always tough to make a change, but we’ve been looking at it for a couple of years,” Gendron said. “We have the room in the building so we might as well put it to its best use.”

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