Boeing Closes Popular Gym for Workers to Meet Budget Cuts

Boeing’s budget ax has fallen on perks for local employees, as well as jobs. The latest cut for Seattle employees came on Friday, when the company shuttered a huge (and widely-popular) gym that once was even a haunt of Dennis Muilenburg, now the company’s Chicago-based CEO. Read more here about Boeing closing its fitness center. 

The gym, which sits along the Duwamish River near Boeing Field, is heavily used by current and former employees.

“I played basketball with Muilenburg there in the late 80s, early 90s,” said Boeing retiree Joe Slepski, a former manager on the defense side of the company, after playing a lunchtime game at the facility Tuesday. “One year, we even won a championship.”

That was when Muilenburg was an up-and-coming engineering manager on Boeing defense programs here and played in one of the all-Boeing recreational leagues.

“There was a mix of employees: managers, engineers, line workers, union people, people from commercial or defense and space,” said Slepski. “Different people from all over the company played basketball and got to know one another. There was great camaraderie across Boeing.”

Currently, nearly 2,200 workers are members at the Oxbow Activity Center, a sprawling 66,000 square foot facility built in 1987 on a bend in the river.

The Oxbow gym, open exclusively to Boeing employees and retirees, boasts two full-size basketball courts, an indoor running track, a large aerobics center, weight room and locker rooms with two dozen showers.

Joe Ellsworth, a Boeing patent attorney who has used the facility for 16 years, said the looming closure has left the regulars inconsolable.

“It’s one of the best gyms in Seattle,” he said Tuesday. “It’s like a funeral over there.

Ellsworth plays basketball on weekday lunchtimes and plays in a Boeing volleyball league in the evening.  “On the surface, Boeing is big into health and fitness,” he said. “In practice, it seems it costs too much.”

A statement posted in February on a website for retired members of Boeing’s engineering union — the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA) — gives the company’s rationale for closing the gym:

“Boeing is making strategic decisions to vacate leased property,” the document states. “Boeing looked at creating a smaller fitness facility on company property. However, the cost of building a new center or retrofitting an existing space was too costly for the current economic environment.”

Boeing stated that the various recreational sports clubs that use the activity center for games or meetings could move to external locations “such as member-owned space, community centers, libraries, school gymnasiums, local schools.”

Boeing spokesman Doug Alder maintained that the company already offers discounts to employees who enroll in fitness centers, and “there are several fitness facilities within two miles of the Oxbow Activity Center.”

Slepski said he e-mailed his old basketball teammate to ask him if there was anything he could do. Muilenburg wrote back to say he’d look into it.

Nevertheless, the gym closed for good on Friday.

“It’s an economic decision. If Muilenburg had the opportunity to keep the place open, he would have, I’m sure,” said Slepski. “But business is business.”

“I don’t know how you trade dozens of guys playing basketball against millions of dollars,” he added.

Calling it “the end of an era,” Slepski said he doesn’t know where he’ll go to play ball after Friday.

“Boeing has a lot of exercise facilities,” he said. “But I don’t know of any basketball opportunities. A lot of guys are looking for someplace to play.”

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