The gym the U.S. Coast Guard personnel use at Sector Columbia River, built in 1970, looked as dreary as the overcast weather outside, with its gray walls, dilapidated exercise equipment from as far back as the 1980s and only a Porta-Potty outside the building to change in. It was not quite adequate for a fitness center that is used by more than 400 active duty guardsmen and hundreds more reservists, dependents and retirees.

“I first came here in 1994,” said Capt. Len Tumbarello about his arrival in Astoria as a lieutenant and his first introduction to the gym. “This gym looked the same here for about the following 19 years.”

Cognizant of budget issues, the Coast Guard marshalled its resources, put its personnel to work and refurbished the gym in what Tumbarello called a “self-help” project for $20,000, saving an estimated $170,000 in contractor costs.

Commanders credit Chief Warrant Officer Gary White, a competitive weightlifter who first came to Sector Columbia River after joining the crew of the cutter Steadfast in 2000, for building the momentum to give the guardsmen and other community members a proper place to exercise.

“It didn’t motivate you,” said White, who recently won a power-lifting competition in his 242-pound weight class. “It was dreary.”

He said the first step to refurbishing was finding the money. Sector Columbia River allocates money to capital improvements, said Cmdr. Bill Timmons, and the gym was an immediate priority.

Community Services Command, a Coast Guard morale organization based in Chesapeake Bay, Va., sent Sector Columbia River another $25,000 for new equipment at the center.

Chief Petty Officer Joseph Hevner said the next step was gutting the utilities and tearing down a wall of the gym so it could be expanded another 500 square feet. The additional space allowed for more weightlifting equipment and the most basic of amenities:?an indoor bathroom.

A team of about 11 guardsmen, along with Tongue Point Job Corps Center facilities maintenance student Karlena Courtney, started the project between Nov. 15 and finished April 1, working after hours and on weekends.

Tumbarello said the improved fitness center sends a message that it’s important guardsmen have a proper facility to help them keep a sound body and mind for saving lives.

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