Court staff will be able to work up a sweat with exercise rooms

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Federal officials say it boils down to a matter of fitness.

Court staff and security personnel at Cape Girardeau's new 150,000-square-foot federal courthouse will be able to work up a sweat without leaving the building.

The $50 million, four-story structure at Independence and Frederick streets includes two exercise rooms -- one for the court staff and judges and another for the U.S. Marshals Service.

The workouts will occur in a courthouse that will be named in honor of the late Rush H. Limbaugh Sr., a longtime Cape Girardeau lawyer and civic leader. The U.S. Senate on Friday passed legislation by unanimous consent to name the new courthouse after Limbaugh. Similar naming legislation passed the U.S. House in February. The bill now will be sent to President Bush to sign into law, U.S. Sen. Kit Bond said.

Federal officials say exercise rooms are common in all of the new federal courthouses.

They don't see it as pampering federal workers at taxpayers' expense. They insist it boils down to a matter of fitness.

"Many, many private businesses that build new buildings include exercise rooms and spaces for exercise equipment," said Jim Woodward, U.S. court clerk for the Eastern District of Missouri. "The courts are really just following a trend that is already pretty prevalent in the private sector."

Federal courthouses have been designed with exercise areas for more than a decade, he said.

Woodward said an exercise room allows court staff to work out before and after work and during lunch time and that in turn promotes good health. "They are sick less often," he said.

However, the exercise room for court staff isn't a lavish facility, he said. It is a windowless, cement-walled room in the basement of the building, right next to the underground parking garage.

"This is not glamorous space," he said.

The area encompasses about 1,200 square feet, including the exercise area as well as men's and women's restrooms, he said. The exercise room will have several treadmills and exercise bikes.

It will be used by the federal judges, as well as by the staff of the court clerk's office, the U.S. Probation Office and the U.S. Pretrial Services office, Woodward said. Fewer than 30 people will be using the exercise room.

The U.S. Marshals Service will have its own exercise area next to the agency's squad room and command and control center on the second floor of the courthouse. The marshals' exercise area is approximately the same square footage as the other exercise space, said Jim Snedegar, project manager for the General Services Administration, which oversees construction and operation of federal buildings.

Virgil Rickey, chief deputy of the U.S. Marshals Service for the Eastern District of Missouri, said the second-floor exercise space is more of a training room. In addition to the training or exercise area, the space includes restrooms, showers and lockers.

Rickey said the exercise space will be used for law enforcement training of marshals and court security officers. The routine training includes defensive tactics, CPR and use of stun guns.

"We need kind of an open space to throw each other around and do what we will do," he said.

The area also will house some exercise equipment, such as a stationary bike and a weight machine, Rickey said.

The Marshals Service has emphasized fitness dating back to the early 1970s, he said, adding that marshals have to take a physical fitness test every six months.

The new courthouse will be staffed with four deputy marshals and about a dozen court security officers, all of whom have to undergo repeated training, Rickey said.

mbliss@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 123

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