James McLamb of Peru, an Oxford County deputy, does his exercise warm-up on the leg squat machine on Monday. The Dirigo Wellness Center of Dixfield is closing its doors on Friday following 10 years of use by area schools and the community. 

DIXFIELD — The Dirigo Wellness Center in Dixfield will be closing its doors after 10 years of operation, Wellness Center Manager Judy Horne said earlier this week.

As a thank-you to local communities, it is hosting goodbye events on Friday at 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.

“We’ve been told that they’re going to find us a place,” Horne said. “My fear is the place they find will not house all this equipment and it will be back to being just for the students.” 

All of the treadmills, weight-lifting machines, stationary bikes and other exercise equipment was acquired through a Pell grant more than 10 years ago by School Administrative District 21, which consists of the towns of Dixfield, Canton, Carthage and Peru.

Since then, the four towns joined Regional School Unit 10, which included Rumford, Buckfield, Byron, Hanover, Hartford, Mexico, Roxbury, Rumford and Sumner, but the four original SAD 21 towns withdrew from RSU 10 last November, for reasons of assuming local control and saving money.

In November, the four towns voted to withdraw from RSU 10 and join together again as RSU 56. The new RSU made extensive cuts to their school budget and voted to close the building housing the Wellness Center this fall.

“The reason they’re closing is it’s one of the older buildings, so it needs some doors, some windows, (a new) furnace — and of course with all the cuts, their first priority had to be teachers and positions and programs,” Horne said.

A Wellness Center committee formed months ago attempted to keep the center open, but they were told by RSU 56 Director Bruce Ross earlier this month at a school board meeting that the $112,000 needed to maintain and run the building was not considered in the committee’s plans.

Currently, Kenny Robbins, RSU 56 director of buildings, grounds and transportation, is searching for a space in any of the district’s buildings to house the Wellness Center.

“We’ve gone to the town (of Dixfield) and asked if the town would take (the building) over, we think it would be a wonderful community center. Every town but us has a community center, Rumford has a community center, Mexico has (a recreation center), even Peru gives $10,000 for their old school. So Dixfield is the only one that is not supported by the town or given anything by the town,” Horne said.

The center has never been a source of much revenue and its purpose was always to give back to the community so the fees there were “extremely low” and school staff members and retirees paid nothing to exercise there, she said.

People using the center come from all around, many from Rumford, Mexico, Dixfield, Weld and Peru. A recent count of members included about 200 people who use the center regularly, not including area students. Physical education classes, anatomy and physiology classes, life skills and all of the sports teams have also used the center, Horne said.

On Monday, Lily Gotto, 90, of Rumford did her three-times-weekly treadmill walk at the center. She said she likes to exercise there because the people are very nice and she always feels happy when she comes in. Next week, she will leave for Florida for the winter. She wasn’t sure where she would exercise when she returns home in the spring, but she might join an exercise program in Rumford, she said.

Another regular at the center, John MacKinnon, in his 80s, said he’s been working out for “60 years or so, off and on.” He also likes to use the treadmill on an incline and uses a variety of the weight-lifting machines.

“I think we’re all saddened by this and it’s too bad because it’s all a part of that (school) withdrawal thing,” he said. “Cut here and cut there to make up for their mistakes. They said when they were promoting the withdrawal that it would benefit the children, it was gonna be less expensive with taxes and what not, and they were going to have local control. All they got was local control.”

Pedaling on the stationary bike on Monday, Wayne Robbins of Dixfield has been exercising at the center for several years.

“I seriously hope that they can find a solution to this problem,” Robbins said. “I think it’s important to have fitness in a community. We have people in here with disabilities and they come in here to rehab, basically. So it’s a big loss, it would be nice if they could get funding to keep this open.”

James McLamb of Peru, an Oxford County deputy, was doing his exercise warm-up on the leg squat machine. He said that many elderly people use the center to rehabilitate or just to stay in shape.

“So I think it’s definitely going to be an inconvenience not to come here, especially if they want to stay in shape, because it’s a low, cheap fee every month,” he said. “And a lot of the other facilities around the area aren’t as people-friendly or it’s more of a harder training environment. This is more like a relaxed (atmosphere) where everybody knows everybody here most of the time. It’s a close-knit community around here, anyway.”

McLamb also said that he thought it was important to him to stay fit for his job as a deputy.

“People who don’t stay in shape can affect our lives and the communities’ lives,” he said. “It’s extremely important to law enforcement to stay physically able and it keeps you mentally strong, too.”

“My push will always be that this reopens for the community,” Horne said.

Since she is a retired schoolteacher, she may substitute teach after the Wellness Center closes, she said.

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Wayne Robbins of Dixfield exercises regularly at the center. The Dirigo Wellness Center of Dixfield is closing its doors Friday following 10 years of use by area schools and the community. 

The Dirigo Wellness Center in Dixfield is closing its doors Friday following 10 years of use by area schools and the community. They are hosting “thank-you” gatherings for the local communities Friday at 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.

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