Bundled up against cold, blustery weather and holding signs that proclaimed "Save our pool, save our lives," about two dozen members of the Brownwood Regional Rehab and Fitness Zone gathered Wednesday morning at Memorial Park with a message: don't deprive them of the heated therapeutic waters of the fitness zone's pool.

Ages of those at the demonstration ranged from 60-year-old Sammie Courington, the former Brownwood High School tennis coach, to 90-year-old Inez Lack. Many, including Courington, told similar stories: the pool gives them relief for arthritis and other ailments including sore joints and lack of mobility, and some said the healing, buoyant waters are the only environment in which they can exercise. The pool has jets that keep the water moving similar to a spa or hot tub, Courington said.

But Courington said he and others who use the pool — either as paid members or those under prescribed medical care — are about to lose access to the pool because the Rehab and Fitness Zone, which is owned by Brownwood Regional Medical Center, is moving. The pool is scheduled to close April 15, pool user Leona Jerden said.

The rehab services that are part of the Brownwood Regional Rehab and Fitness Zone are relocating to 101 Streckert, the former home of the Brownwood Surgery Center and the current home of Ranger College nursing program's labs. The nursing labs, in turn, are moving into the Coggin Avenue facility that is now home to the Rehab and Fitness Zone. The fitness center portion of the Rehab and Fitness Zone will relocate to a building near the hospital known as the hospital annex.

In a statement emailed Wednesday to the Bulletin, hospital Chief Executive Officer Chip Camp said:

"We sincerely regret that we are unable to continue operating the exercise pool as part of our Rehab and Fitness Zone. We explored the feasibility of maintaining the pool, but found the cost of immediate and long-term maintenance requirements are substantial and cost-prohibitive. Though it was a difficult decision to close the pool, we believe our financial resources must be devoted to the medical services and therapies that benefit the largest number of patients in our community."

Courington said he met Friday with Camp and the two "bounced ideas" including the possibility of someone leasing the pool who would sub-lease it to pool users.

 Courington said earlier the purpose of Wednesday's gathering was to "attract attention (for) someone to help us maintain access to the pool."

"(We will) just wait and see," Courington said at Wednesday's gathering. "I know at least one person has approached (the hospital) about leasing the pool. … All we're trying to accomplish is just to attract attention.

"In these (weather) conditions, they're here just to show how important this is. It really puts an exclamation point" on the importance of the pool, Courington said.

Brownwood resident Jane Savell said arthritis forced her to retire from her teaching job, and the pool at the Rehab and Fitness Zone "is keeping me walking." Because she can exercise in the pool, Savell said, she has lost 40 pounds.

"It just limbers me up. It takes the weight off my joints so I can move them," Savell said.

Lack, the 90-year-old pool user, said her activities in the pool include volleyball and water aerobics. "It's the only exercise I get," Lack said.