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Lower Columbia College is getting ready to deep-six its old fitness center and bring its antiquated gymnasium up to code for disability access.

The upgrade is the realization of a vision by LCC students, who eight years ago voted overwhelmingly to chip in the money to pay for it.

Construction begins in June and will take a year.

“What’s exciting about this project is in 2005 the students pushed this through,” Nolan Wheeler, LCC vice president of administration, said Wednesday. “There’s finally enough money in their account.”

In 2005, LCC students voted 278-36 to impose a $2.50-per-credit fee on themselves to bring the Truman Myklebust Gymnasium, built in 1959, up to ADA code and to remodel and expand the small fitness center.

“Ours pretty much sucks. That’s the only way to describe it,” Jessica Grubb, then-president of LCC student government, told The Daily News during the two-day voting period in 2005.

Students raised $2 million toward the $6 million project, Wheeler said. The state gave the college $2 million in matching funds, and “we’ll fundraise for the rest,” Wheeler said.

The remodel includes expanding the building’s footprint by 12,000 square feet on the side of the gym by the parking lot (once the site of a soccer field). That expanded area will be the fitness center, which will feature a rock-climbing wall, a larger free-weight area and new fitness equipment, Wheeler said.

LCC President Chris Bailey said the facility, which will be used only by LCC staff and students, will be the college’s contribution toward improving local health.

Cowlitz County “ranked 39 out of 39 in healthy behaviors” among Washington counties, he said Wednesday.

The remodel also includes renovated locker rooms, offices, a new lobby area with an elevator and three large classrooms upstairs available to rent for community activities. One of the upstairs rooms, built to hold 74 occupants, will have a suspended floor ideal for yoga, Pilates or dance classes, Wheeler said.

“We will have the best dance floor in town,” he said.

He said the gym will be closed during construction and arrangements are being made to hold activities in other venues. Existing fitness equipment has been moved into the student center and discussions are under way to locate suitable home arenas for the school’s volleyball and basketball teams during the next academic year.

Once the gym reopens, there’s potential to add physical education and community education class offerings, he said.

Wheeler said he thinks it’s pretty neat that students eight years ago had the vision to plant an idea that will bear fruit for future students.

“It’s going to be a really nice facility,” he said.

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