Update on Arlington campus fitness center– where, when & why

 The 3434 Washington Boulevard fitness space, currently used by only SRA International Inc. employees, is a potential alternative (photo by Evan Stancil).
The 3434 Washington Boulevard fitness space, currently used by only SRA International Inc. employees, is a potential alternative (photo by Evan Stancil).

Roughly eighteen months after 405 Arlington campus students signed a petition to bring a fitness center to the Arlington campus, university officials have deemed the project over-budget, without a definitive solution in place for a fitness facility.

George Mason University’s Arlington campus currently lacks the presence of an exercise facility while Mason’s main campus in Fairfax and the campus in Prince William already have fitness centers.The questions posed by students who signed the petition are why this project has taken so long to complete and where the allocated budget money has gone.

The Graduate and Professional Student Association, better known as GAPSA, created the petition in fall of 2011. Students endorsed the construction of an exercise facility on the Arlington campus, citing that many faculty, students and staff spend a significant amount of time on campus. Such facilities would benefit the health of the university community, since an exercise center would greatly improve chances of exercising.

Scientific studies confirm that regular and vigorous exercise improves students’ grades. Access to these facilities could provide university students and employees many benefits, including physical and mental health benefits that could reduce potential health care costs.

Current students and alumni included statements in the petition such as, “it’s long overdue,” “it’s inappropriate that fees go to benefit the main campus” and “a gym would be awesome!”

“It would definitely have been great to have a gym at school when I was here, but at least you should have one now!” said a Mason law school alumnus in a comment on the petition.

Steve Rossi, another student who signed the petition, said, “this is a great idea. It doesn't need to be a megaplex of a gym, just a good room or two with equipment to keep the Arlington campus in good physical and mental health. It's a no brainer and would be an additional selling point for the school.”

According to Patrick McCavitt, director of business and finance for Auxiliary Enterprises and University Life, the $145,000 that was budgeted for construction of the gym did not include the operation of the facility.

Arlington gym option at 3434 Washington Blvd. (photo by Evan Stancil).

“We would have to continue annually feeding it for maintenance,” McCavitt said. “This would require an investment of approximately $20,000 per year for equipment and recreation costs after student fees.” The project would not affect student fees and no cost would be passed onto the students.

“We thought we had a viable option: the dollars that were committed were coming from University Life (primarily Mason Recreation), Auxiliary Services and Auxiliary Enterprise Management Committee,” Vice President of University Life Rose Pascarell said.

Thomas Calhoun, vice president of Mason Facilities, said that the university underestimated the project and did not authorize enough money for its completion. Calhoun confirmed that the air system expenses, known as HVAC, needed to exhaust the air and renovating the piping were the main cost drivers that led to the realization that the project was under-budgeted.

“It was time to take a step back and re-evaluate the school’s options,” Calhoun said.

Fast-forward 18 months and the Arlington campus does not show signs of a fitness center nor its construction. When questioned about the fitness center, MBA student Jim Burkart said, “Weren’t we supposed to have a facility to use by now?”

After the petition was brought to the attention of the university, University Life, working with Human Resources, put in a formal space request with the Space Administration Committee for a fitness center. SAC, managed by Facilities Administration, determined that the former Arlington Café in the basement of Hazel Hall was an appropriate space for this request.

However, this proposal initially met opposition from Mason’s School of Law, according to Richard Kelsey, assistant dean of management & planning at the School of Law. According to Kelsey, the law school wanted to reserve that space as a study area and kitchenette space for student use.

A blueprint of the Hazel Hall student lounge and fitness center option (photo courtesy of George Mason University).

SAC determined that the area in Hazel Hall should be divided in half to accommodate the interests of the students who would like a fitness facility and students who would like part of the room to have study tables and chairs. From the blueprint, it can be seen that this space has exposure to sunlight through 5 bay windows and sufficient access to water and electricity.

In August 2012, SAC officially approved the gym/lounge project and plans were set in motion to accomplish this initiative. The cost estimate, after the project was accurately surveyed, put the university well over budget and was not efficient or economically feasible. The fitness center proposal was then deemed “cost prohibitive” according to Kelsey.

McCavitt, who helped develop the budget, said that it was difficult to come up with the money in the first place. The money was to come from reserves and Mason Recreation as well as the Auxiliary Enterprise Management Council fund.

“It was discovered that the budget would have to be increased between $50,000–100,000 for HVAC upgrades due to piping issues,” McCavitt said. 

McCavitt made it clear that the money is still available for the project, and they are looking for how to best fund this project. 

“Additional money would be needed to build the facility in the basement of Hazel Hall,” said McCavitt.

Calhoun said the delay is due mainly to the physical challenges of the space. Even with the current project costs, he is confident that, “while still looking to figure out a solution, we should know the direction of this project certainly before July.” He added that “by the end of the academic year in May, a solution will be in place for an exercise facility in Arlington.”

Current alternatives that are on the table include the gym space that is part of the 3434 Washington Boulevard building, which is accessible from the Founders Hall parking lot. This space is currently available to only SRA International, Inc. employees.

There is an option for Arlington students to exercise at the local YMCA a few blocks from Arlington’s campus for a discounted price of $2 per visit due to a University Life subsidy.

As of right now it appears there is no definite answer to where the Arlington campus fitness center will be located or when it will be ready for use by students. 

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Editor's note: In full disclosure, the writer of this piece has signed the petition in support of a fitness center at George Mason University's Arlington campus.
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