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$5 million fitness center expansion plan announced

Since the Fitness Center’s first year of operation in 2000, the number of people using the workout area has increased steadily from 40,000 to 100,000 — and no building alterations have been made.

According to Greg Homol, who has been the Fitness Center Director for almost 11 years, this growth in popularity is one of the reasons the Fitness Center has been allotted $5 million for expansion and renovation. This construction is part of a larger group of renovation plans that will occur across campus and cost an estimated $170 million.

Ian Day, the Director of Athletics, says that the money for the expansion came from a bond held by the UMass system, and will therefore not raise tuition.

“Each UMass campus has been allocated a certain amount of money,” said Day.

According to Day, the money is for “Fitness Center and athletic facilities upgrades,” and must be spent within the next three years.

Homol has a long list of improvements he would like to make to the Fitness Center with the allotted funds.

“Something that I’ve always wanted to do is to put a suspended track over the three basketball courts,” he said.

However, it is clear that increasing the space available to students is the most pressing issue.

“There’s not a lot of negative feedback [in our student surveys],” said Homol, “but there is a complaint about the lack of space.”

Day noted that although the Fitness Center has not been neglected by the University — all of the original workout equipment has been replaced, and TVs were added two years ago — the increase in gym-goers has posed new problems.

“Everyone wants to work out at the same time,” he said, looking at graphs depicting the number of students using the gym at various times of the day.

Thus, the first priority in the Fitness Center construction will be to add an extension of the building, either upwards as a second story to the existing building, or outwards off the side. Although upwards is the most desirable direction, both Homol and Day expressed concerns that the current building may not be able to support a second story.

Homol said that the expansion would be used to create a second aerobics room and separate areas for cardio and weight-lifting equipment, which are currently packed into one room.

“One of the big improvements would be better heat and air conditioning,” Homol added. “When you have 150 people burning calories, the AC can’t keep up.”

Day said that the Athletics Department is also assessing the Athletic Center locker rooms to see if renovation is necessary.

Although the money cannot be used to hire instructors for workout classes, Homol noted that there would be “more offerings for the students” because “it makes sense...that if you have two aerobics rooms, you’ll need to hire more instructors.”

Homol and Day hope that the $5 million will be enough to carry out the majority of their plans.

“We’ll do the best we can do with the $5 million, but if we had more, we would certainly do more,” said Homol.

Day agreed, saying that “whilst we would like to do more, we are appreciative of what we’ve gotten.”

Although most students seem to agree that $5 million out of $170 million is small in relative terms, there are many who feel that the money could be better spent.

Prachi Shah, a junior history major, said she felt the funds should have been used on “more and better professors, and better classroom conditions.”

“I know a lot of my professors complain about budget cuts and not having materials,” said senior liberal arts major James Fontes. “I think that should come first...As long as they prioritize things, I’m OK with [spending money on the Fitness Center].”

Sophomore mechanical engineering major John Howard IV preferred that the school “put that money toward fixing problems in the College of Engineering, where students can’t get into classes they need because the engineering department is understaffed.”

Despite these students’ concerns, the money has already been given to the Fitness Center, which plans to begin construction at the soonest, most convenient date for students.

“I would like to see this project on the fast track,” said Day. “In a perfect world, it’d be a three month long summer project...We’ll do everything to schedule the construction at a time that’s at the least inconvenience to students.”

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