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Pages from World Bank History: The Bank's Fitness Center

A presentation of historical events by the World Bank Group Archives

June 27, 2003—The World Bank Group’s well-equipped Fitness Centers have been a part of Bank life for numerous staff for many years—so long, in fact, that few people today recall its humble and precarious origins. In August 1974 the exercise group consisted of three staff—all Bank teachers of English. But friends came, and they, in turn, invited friends, and so in early 1975, the number of twice-weekly exercisers sometimes exceeded a dozen, men included.

The March 1975 issue of Bank Notes reported that a class of as many as a dozen people or more had been meeting twice a week to do physical exercises during the lunch hour. They were led by English instructor Mary Evans, a former modern dancer (in college), and, more recently, a "slimnastics" instructor at the "Y." Her class found an exercise room wherever it could. In less than six months, it had met in vacant rooms on the tenth, ninth and third floors of the old N Building at 801 19th Street, NW. The IMF had turned down Miss Evans’ plea for time in its exercise room, and as the Bank filled in the N Building, it was hard to know where to turn to next.

"We’ve got a good group, and they are really loyal. They want to continue," Miss Evans said.

A few years later, the situation had improved considerably. On July 1, 1980 the Bank’s first genuine exercise facility opened in the basement of the I Building. Mary Evans was designated by the Staff Association, which managed the facility, as one of the Exercise Room Coordinators, along with Joanne Spina.

There were approximately 25 people in each class, and as many staff as possible were accommodated in the exercise program. The classes included instruction in the martial arts, yoga, and general calisthenics. Although not available immediately, it was planned to equip the Exercise Room with two pulley systems, small weights, bicycles, jump ropes, mirrors, a ballet barre, and a few other items shortly after it opened. A punching bag was contributed by a staff member. The Exercise Room was also equipped with showers, saunas and lockers. Classes were open to both sexes, but initially few men were involved.

Over the years the Bank’s fitness program continued to evolve. When the H Building was completed in 1983 it included an exercise facility on the B1 level. One staff member recalls that in 1985 the current entrance area to the Fitness Center in H Building had one large open area for aerobics, blocked off from the machines, weights, rowing machines and exercise bikes by what appeared to be a rather dirty fishnet. The carpeted floor was lumpy, the showers were sparse and cramped, and the lockers were continually fought over.

But the fitness program continued to grow in popularity. The J Building was completed in 1986 with a small additional exercise facility on JB1. These two facilities ran in tandem with that in the I Building for several years.

Then, on August 31, 1992, the new three-floor Fitness Center opened on the B1 level of the H Building. By that time management of the Bank’s fitness program had moved from the Staff Association to the Health Services Department (HSD). "One of the most important decisions we had to make as we looked at growing," said Dr. Bernhard H. Liese, then Director of HSD, "was to put an integrated program into place and, as part of that, to improve on the limited space and substandard conditions which we had with the three scattered facilities." This led to management’s decision to expand the program, and after careful research, it became obvious that the logical approach was an integrated facility, with most growth potential, in the H Building, where the primary center already existed. "No other Bank building," said Dr. Liese, "including the New Main Complex, could accommodate the size of an integrated facility which would service HSD’s projected membership."

Today the Fitness Center facilities consist of the "H" Facility in H B1-030 on the B1 level of the H Building, and the "IFC" Satellite Facility in F-K-108 in the IFC F Building. The "H" Studio is equipped with locker rooms, showers, sauna rooms, exercise studios, equipment rooms, and a testing room. The "H" Facility is also equipped with a shower, locker, and toilet area to accommodate handicapped persons located on the main level. The "IFC" Satellite Facility is equipped with weight training equipment, a large exercise studio, locker rooms, showers, and sauna rooms. There are now approximately 4,000 registered members. In 2002 between 450 and 600 members used the facilities daily. The number of exercise classes offered was 70.

All in all a vast change from the precarious wanderings of a few determined staff looking for a vacant room in which to exercise in the mid-1970s!

Without records there is no history. Courtesy of ISG’s World Bank Group Archives.


The I Building exercise facility shortly after it opened in 1980:





A fitness class in the N Building in 1975:



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