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Copyright 2014 Sun Journal
Sun Journal (Lewiston, Maine)

AUBURN -- John F. Murphy Homes plans to move forward on a $25 million plan to create a fitness center in Lewiston for people with physical and intellectual disabilities, despite an analysis by Central Maine Healthcare that could lead to the creation of a similar center in the city's downtown.

"The decision was not made in a vacuum," said Brian Vaill, chairman of the John F. Murphy Homes' capital campaign. "It was made after exhausting every effort to find common ground between the two projects."

Each project could cost millions of dollars to create fitness centers that serve therapeutic needs.

The JFM project is much further along. Though it was announced on April 15, it has been in planning over the past three years.

The Central Maine Healthcare project arose last summer during Grow L+A discussions of Bates Mill No. 5 and its possible uses. Central Maine Orthopedics, with Grow L+A and the Fitness and Wellness Professional Services of Princeton, N.J., went to work. A feasibility study is underway and will be completed in August, said Chuck Gill, spokesman for Central Maine Healthcare.

Central Maine Orthopedics and JFM met to discuss working together, but nothing was decided.

"There are no doors being closed," Gill said Tuesday.

John F. Murphy Homes couldn't wait any longer, Vaill said.

"We have no idea where they stand, but we made the decision we're going to move forward with our project," said Vaill, who believes the community can only support one such center.

"We'll let the free enterprise system dictate which succeeds," he said.

And there may be a third fitness center in the mix.

The Auburn-Lewiston YMCA is working on a fitness center to be built on property across the river from the JFM site. The YMCA's previously announced plans call for a gym, pools and other facilities at a property behind Kmart in Auburn.

Vaill and Peter Kowalski, the CEO of John F. Murphy Homes, said they also met with a representative of the YMCA, but its goals were different.

Leaders at the YMCA did not return calls Tuesday for comment.

"We don't have anything negative to say about the Y," Kowalski said. "We're building for the person who isn't so able, but everyone's welcome."

If all goes according to plan, JFM will begin raising money immediately and break ground on the 25-acre site between the Androscoggin River and Marden's on Main Street by theof next year. Construction, estimated to cost about $17 million, would take at least a year.

The remaining $8 million would be used to create an endowment to run the facility, Vaill said.

Besides the people already served by JFM, the facility would be used to help disabled or wounded veterans, senior citizens and others with special needs, Vaill said. However, it would also be open to the general public.

When complete, the complex would spread across 65,000 square feet. It would include a lap pool, a gym and a cardiovascular area. It would also have a large commercial kitchen and a banquet hall.

"We want our facility to be a central meeting place for the community," Vaill said. Outside, they hope to build trails among a tall stand of pines on the bank of the Androscoggin.

"It's a beautiful piece of land that goes down to the riverbank," he said.

July 2, 2014
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