University prepares for fitness center

University officials are finalizing plans for the new Health and Wellness Center, which is scheduled to partially open at the beginning of April, said Bob Ludwig, assistant director of Media Relations.

A locker room, weight room and juice bar are scheduled to open in April, said Tony Vecchione, assistant athletic director for Facilities and Operations. Other parts of the facility, including a suspended track, three-lane lap pool and racquetball courts, will not be ready,

“We support phasing in (the building) in the sense that it would be ready for students to use,” Vecchione said. “It would be easier to get the whole building at one time, but our goal is that we can have it ready for the students as quick as we can.”

The University will need a partial certificate of occupancy to open in April.

Robert Chernak, vice president for Student Academic and Support services, said he believes the building will open closer to mid-April or May.

To help finance the new building, students will pay a fee of $7.50 a credit hour, for up to 15 credits. Full-time students will pay $225 a year. Chernak said the fee will start this summer, unless the building does not open on time.

Vecchione said the fee will not fund equipment replacement, but will help pay off a D.C. bond the University used to fund the project and others, he said.

Students will have access to fitness facilities in the new building whenever it is open – a change from the Smith Center fitness rooms that close for athletic teams, classes and sports events.

Vecchione said zoning regulations only allow the building to remain open between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. on Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. on Sundays. The Smith Center stays open 7:30 a.m. to 12:30 a.m. Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Sunday.

“The one nice thing about the Smith Center besides the cockroaches were the hours,” junior Aaron Brachman said.

Aubre Jones, director of Recreation Sports and Fitness Services, said 10 p.m. is too early to close the gym, and would like to see it open later.

Vecchione said the University has not given up contesting zoning regulations that call for an early close. He said the Athletic Department may keep the Smith Center open during late hours to compensate for the lost time.

“If the need is great we can go back and discuss it,” he said.

Scott Bokker, event manager for the athletic department, orders equipment for the new facility along with Operations Manager Jason Wilson.

“We came to a conclusion last fall as to what we want . and what will give us a very well-rounded line of equipment for any type of fitness goal,” Bokker said.

Bokker said GW bought most of the equipment from LifeFitness, the largest commercial fitness equipment manufacturer in the world, according to its Web site.

Vecchione said the new fitness center will house 7,000 square feet of cardiovascular equipment and 4,000 square feet of free weights and plate-loaded Hammer Strength machines.

Proposals are on the table to put a food venue in the new building, including an Einstein Bros. concept or a juice bar, said Nancy Haaga, director of Auxiliary and Institutional Services.

Because the building is restricted only to students and staff unlike J Street, Chernak said that it could pose a problem in negotiations for food services.

“Our pro-forma isn’t finished yet, but what we’re seeing is that we can make it work either way,” Haaga said.

Haaga said she expects a decision in the next couple of weeks.

Junior Erin Bingham, president of GW’s Tae Kwon Do Club, said she looks forward to the new building’s opening.

“The Smith Center is really crowded. Space is always a problem,” she said. “I’m anxious to see the difference.”

-Tim Donnelly contributed to this report.

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