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A $5.5 million fitness center slated for completion in 2013 will free up more space for aerobics classes, may include a rock wall and new cardio machines, and might pave the way for a return of intramural sports to Lower Columbia College.

LCC officials say they expect to break ground on the 12,000-square-foot addition to Myklebust Gym late next spring.

"We hope to get everything ready to roll as soon as commencement is over," said Nolan Wheeler, LCC's interim vice president of administration.

A group of students and staff members met late last month to begin discussing what should be included in the new facility, which will replace the 57-year-old fitness area located above the locker rooms inside the gym.

The new fitness center has been in the works for at least a half-dozen years, and nearly half of it is being paid for by LCC students.

In 2005, students voted to begin charging themselves a fee of $2.50 per credit until they reached about $2 million. Students approved the fee even though most knew they'd graduate long before they'd ever get to use the facilities.

"They saw a need and they decided to assess themselves a fee knowing they probably wouldn't be reaping the benefits, but other students would," Wheeler said.

Earlier this year, the Legislature matched the students' savings with another $2 million from the state's capital budget. The money must be spent by the end of the 2011-13 state budget cycle. College officials have been working to raise the remaining $1.5 million through donations and other funding sources. They may try to generate some money by selling naming rights to the center.

LCC's current one-room fitness center has weight training equipment and cardio machines spread out around a floor area used for exercise classes such as yoga, Pilates and zumba. During busy hours, some classes use the gym floor because the fitness area isn't large enough, Wheeler said. That takes away potential other uses of the gym - such as lunchtime basketball. No elevator serves the second-floor facility, so it isn't accessible to all users, Wheeler said.

The project will expand the Myklebust Gym building to the west and likely will eliminate several parking spots in the lot between David Story Field and the Mark Morris High School tennis courts. Officials say its too early to know what equipment will be included in the fitness center.

The project also likely will include renovations to the locker rooms. The old fitness center could be transformed into multipurpose classrooms or a conference area that overlooks the basketball court, Wheeler said.

The group of students and staff will meet through January, when LCC officials hope to have a detailed plan for the new project.

LCC officials have toured other college fitness centers for ideas of what to include in their new center.

"The further we get down the road, we'll know more about what our wishes cost," Wheeler said.

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