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For Matt Crawford, waiting for the opening of Lower Columbia College’s new fitness center has been like waiting for Christmas morning: full of anticipation and disorder.

“There’s all this kind of confusion behind it and when it’s going to open,” he said. “It’s gonna be like this amazing state-of-the-art facility. That center is the center of life for me.”

Crawford has been attending LCC on and off since 2001. Two years ago, he was 352 pounds and taking cholesterol and blood pressure medications. After two shoulder injuries, he decided to get fit and lost 60 pounds and turned 25 percent of his body fat into muscle. He said the college’s new fitness center will help other LCC students find the joy and value of exercise.

“A gym community is an amazing one. It’s the interaction of having a commonality with people,” he said. “It could change the dynamics of the campus … if (students) could get over their gym intimidation.”

Crawford’s wait will soon be over.

The $9.5 million, state-of-the-art fitness center will be open during limited hours next week. It will open for full hours the last week of May, when the college will host an open house for students, including orientations and training sessions. Only students and current and retired staff can use the center.

The opening had been delayed by the hiring process for a fitness center manager and late shipment of equipment, but classes already are being held in its three new instruction rooms on the second floor.

The project added about 12,500 square feet to the complex, which now totals 33,500 square feet. The footprint includes the Myklebust Gymnasium, which reopened in January, and the fitness center, which includes new fitness equipment, a smoothie bar and rock-climbing wall. Most of the old gym’s footprint was preserved, but no trace is left of the cluttered, dusty and musty old gym that deterred students from using it, said Nolan Wheeler, vice president of administration.

With two “Big Ass Fans” — yes, that’s the brand name — that musty smell shouldn’t be problem. And neither should access. The new gym will be up to code for disability access, complete with an elevator and hearing aids.

“We modernized it to meet the needs of our students,” Wheeler said. “I think students are going to flock to it. I’m positive about that. This will be one of the hubs (for students).”

Since 2005, LCC students have raised $2.3 million through a self-imposed, quarterly $2.50 per credit fee. The state gave the college another $2 million, and the last $3 million will be financed with a bond that will be paid off by the continuing student fee.

Junior Rochelle Kanallakan said she’s excited to get back into a gym after the college closed the temporary fitness center below the Student Center last quarter. She runs, uses a stair machine and lifts weights at home regularly, but she’s excited to use new and diverse equipment in the new fitness center.

All 40 pieces of fitness equipment are new, including the same kind of pneumatic squat machine the Portland Trail Blazers train with and a slate of stationary bikes, treadmills and weight machines.

While the gym was under construction, fitness classes were squished into rooms around campus. Class sizes were cut in half as a result, and classes often ran into schedule conflicts.

“It’s nice to spread out,” fitness and nutrition instructor Elena Ross said. “There wasn’t enough space for people to move (before).”

Ross said she’s looking forward to teaching her health classes in the upstairs rooms, which can double as fitness and lecture classrooms. Each lecture-ready room is equipped with hearing aids for impaired students, projectors, document cameras, whiteboards and flat screen TVs.

“You could have an 80-person lecture,” Ross said. “Next winter, I’ll have a nutritional psychology class, so it’s going to be bigger. We can divide into smaller seminars.”

The sprung wood floor in the multipurpose room upstairs is a boon for dancers, which will benefit from landing on the slightly springy floor.

With a bigger gym came new hires and new classes. The college added a staff and faculty yoga class and, in addition to hiring a fitness center manager, it will hire at least two part-time staff members to run the smoothie bar and help students check in.

The new gym will be open for about 13 hours Monday through Friday as it has in the past. The new gym, however, will be open for about four hours Saturdays.

The center’s 33-foot climbing wall is likely to be a faculty and student favorite. It’s the only climbing wall between Vancouver and Centralia. Ross and Wheeler said they hope to open the climbing wall to the public in the future. The smoothie bar will be open to the public.

Wheeler said the facility is close to obtaining LEED Gold certification, the third-highest level in the eco-friendly ranking given by the U.S. Green Building Council. The application process may take another six months. Wheeler said the facility is eco-friendly because the gym won’t be selling water bottles and has more energy-efficient heating units, bike racks and efficient lighting.

There’s one more big hurdle students have to jump. They’ll vote May 12-14 on a new $25 quarterly fee ($50 for staff) to maintain the building. Junior Kanallakan said she supports the fee and hopes her fellow students will, too.

“It could really go on of two ways,” she said. “If students don’t pass the original initiative, (the college is) going to find a different way to fund it. They’re going to come up with different solutions, and it may end up costing us more. Eight dollars per month is really not a lot.”

Contact Daily News reporter Lauren Kronebusch at 360-577-2532 or


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