User fees will likely rise significantly at the town-owned public fitness center at Cape Elizabeth High School after an attempt to privatize it fell flat earlier this month.

After a couple of years of running the fitness center in the red, the Town Council had hoped to revitalize it by leasing it to Susan Janosik, a 46-year-old former employee and South Portland-based personal trainer.

But Janosik withdrew her interest after hiring a business consultant, who told her she would be able to make little, if any, money out of the deal.

“It was a hard decision. I really wanted to do it. My heart was in it,” Janosik said in a telephone interview Monday. “It just didn’t look like it would be a financially sound thing for me to do.”

It’s been difficult even for town officials to calculate how much it costs to operate the fitness center because many of its costs are shared with the town pool, which is located in the same building, or spread throughout the Community Services budget. Town officials expected to charge Janosik $1,000 a month to lease the space and equipment. Janosik would have paid for liability insurance and other necessities.

But after consulting with a business expert, Janosik said, she realized that it would be very difficult just to break even under those terms.

“I was in tears at one point, because I really wanted to do it,” she said. “I just didn’t want to get into something that I would hate.”

Janosik spoke with Town Manager Michael McGovern and withdrew her proposal on July 8.

In an e-mail to Town Council members, McGovern said that even if the town charged her no rent for a year, Janosik would at best make about $5 per hour while working in excess of 40 hours a week.

Attached to the pool at Cape Elizabeth High School, the fitness center has a small number of treadmills, stationary bikes and weight machines, and charges residents user fees ranging from $5 a day to $370 a year.

While it was successful after it opened in January 2000, it has recently begun losing money, due largely to declining membership.

Alarmed that the fitness center was being subsidized by taxpayers, town officials began discussing privatization of the facility in early 2008. When Janosik, who managed the center from 2000 to 2003, expressed interest, she seemed a natural choice, town officials said. She was also highly recommended by outgoing Community Services Director Sue Weatherbie.

Only two other people responded when the business opportunity was “widely advertised” in local papers, McGovern said. One of those two was interviewed but passed over in favor of Janosik, he said.

McGovern said that the town does not plan to re-call the other two respondents. Instead, he said, Community Services will continue to operate the center “with an eye toward controlling costs.” This is expected to cost taxpayers about $30,000 over 12 months.

McGovern said the town will likely raise user fees about 10 to 15 percent and offer no discounts except to senior citizens. Community Services staff will study the issue over the coming year and recommend other options as part of the 2009-2010 budget process.

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