The article below originally appeared in the San Mateo County Times and is being reprinted with permission.

SAN MATEO — Community-college leaders hope students and the general public will keep fit while helping generate some much-needed revenue for academic and other programs.

They see that dual goal being met by the new state-of-the-art fitness complex under way at College of San Mateo and scheduled to open in April.

Following the lead of other higher-education institutions across the country, the San Mateo County Community College District will run the complex not only as an educational venue but also as a health club available to everyone on a membership basis.

“One thing motivating us to do that is providing access to fitness for students, faculty, staff and the general community and at the same time trying to be proactive to bring resources to the district to try to mitigate the cutbacks we’re experiencing,” district board President Patricia Miljanich said.

The San Mateo Athletic Club and Aquatic Center is part of the construction of Building 5N, among a number of improvement projects districtwide resulting from two voter-approved bond measures of $207 million in 2001 and $468 million in 2005 plus $100 million in state funding.

Building 5N will also house nursing, cosmetology and other programs. Next to the building will be an Olympic-size, 50-meter competition swimming pool and a smaller pool.

The athletic and aquatic complex will hold regular classes and offer certification programs in water-safety instruction,nutrition counseling and other areas.

“But in order to maximize the return on the facility, we decided to open it up to the community and have a fee-based membership” similar to that of a commercial fitness center, said Tom Bauer, district director of auxiliary services.

Other schools nationwide — including UC San Francisco — have pursued such a route as a way to generate revenue, Bauer said.

“It’s not altogether a new concept,” he said. “But in this economy, we really do have to look at opportunities to raise money.”

The district slashed $7.5 million from its current budget and faces another $7.2 million in cuts for the 2010-11 fiscal year.

Within five years, Bauer said, the Athletic Club is expected to support itself financially and have “money left to help fund other programs as needed.”

Bauer declined to say how much revenue the operation would generate, pending a report to the board Jan. 27.

“The center will cover some of the utility and maintenance costs … meaning that the instructional program won’t have to cover all of those costs,” district Chief Financial Officer Kathy Blackwood said. “Over time, as the appropriate reserves are built up, we expect the program to generate unrestricted revenues for the district. However, like any startup, we expect the enterprise to lose money the first year or two as we build our membership.”

District leaders aim to bring in up to 2,500 paying members eventually, Bauer said. Monthly membership will cost $35 for students, $49 for staff and teachers, and $59 for at-large community members.

The complex will be “one of the best-equipped gyms around for (the academic community) and folks who join to work out,” he said. “It’s an opportunity for taxpayers to see and use what they spent their money on.”

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