AUBURN — A nonprofit group that houses, feeds, educates and supports people with physical and intellectual disabilities hopes to start providing that population with a place to go for fitness needs.

John F. Murphy Homes on Tuesday launched a $25 million fundraising effort to design and build a state-of-the-art, 60,000-square-foot well-being and fitness center on a 24-acre riverfront site behind Marden’s in Lewiston.

The facility would feature a 3,400-square-foot therapeutic indoor pool that would be equipped with ramps and rails to accommodate wheelchairs and walkers. A basketball court and running track would be housed in a full-size gymnasium. A fully equipped cardio workout room would include free weights and weight machines.

In an effort to boost revenues to support the rest of the facility, two community rooms that could be rented to private businesses and organizations for conferences and meetings would be serviced by a full professional kitchen. Solar panels covering a section of the roof would help defray pool-heating costs.

“Most recreation centers are built around the needs of the able, but welcome all,” CEO Peter Kowalski said at a morning news conference Tuesday at the Hilton Garden Inn. “This facility will be built around the needs of the not-so-able, but will also welcome all.”

He said the aim of the new facility would be to serve populations who may not be comfortable in a conventional workout setting. Veterans and elderly may be more at ease at a fitness center geared toward their needs, he said.


To his knowledge, Kowalski said the new fitness center would be the first of its kind in Maine.

“Our goal is that the center will provide a comfortable, welcoming and enticing environment for those of us who are not so comfortable working out in a competitive gym,” he said.

That doesn’t mean it would be closed to any segment of the population, he said. Membership would be available to anyone.

The board of directors at the organization has envisioned such a facility for three decades, nearly as long as the group’s 37-year existence, Kowalski said.

U.S. Rep. Michael Michaud said, “Everyone has their own thoughts and philosophy about going to the gym. For some, it’s a daily routine; for some people, it’s a chore; for some others, it’s torture.”

But, he added, “There’s no doubt that having a place to go to run, to swim, to play basketball, to have access to that physical therapy equipment that you need is very important.”


It should provide members of the group’s community a greater sense of independence, he said.

“What that could do also for our veterans population is just amazing,” said Michaud, who is the ranking Democrat on the Committee for Veterans Affairs in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“Your vision will definitely make this area a better place to live and to raise a family,” he said of the group.

The group hopes to raise $25 million within a year. Architect William Hamilton said design and construction might take roughly two years to complete.

John F. Murphy Homes employs about 750 people among its 54 residential homes, daytime support programs and training. Kowalski said they would expect to hire roughly 25 more workers to staff the fitness center.

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