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Amid a steady enrollment increase, UT shapes up its fitness center

The University of Tampa’s new fitness center will be eight times larger than the current one.
The University of Tampa’s new fitness center will be eight times larger than the current one.
Published May 8, 2015

Since the McNiff Fitness Center opened its doors at the University of Tampa in 1993, it has undergone only minor renovations.

Equipment was upgraded and new televisions installed, but the 6,000-square-foot building itself remained the same while other projects took precedence.

Now, 22 years later, the university has broken ground on a fitness center that will be eight times the size of McNiff. The first phase will be 40,000 square feet and is set to be completed in the spring of 2016, according to university spokesman Eric Cardenas.

The second phase will add 20,000 square feet, but a time line has not been set.

The additional space means students will no longer have to build gym time into their class schedules in hopes of avoiding the rush and securing seldom-available equipment or rare spots in a workout class.

"There is a waiting system for the classes," said Kristin Anderson, a 22-year-old student, who recently graduated. "You have to get there 20-30 minutes early for the class, then you get a card with a number on it."

Two stories tall, the center will offer longer hours, more equipment and nine rooms, including six group exercise rooms and a dedicated spinning classroom.

It also will have additional classroom and lab space for academic-related programs.

"Students have talked about it for a while (expanding the fitness center)," Cardenas said. "It's one of those things, we feel pretty strongly, that if students are healthy and feel physically well, they will do better in the classroom."

At one point, the intimate gym served its purpose, but with increasing enrollment, the construction is necessary. UT now serves more than 8,000 students and boasts of 18 consecutive years of record enrollment.

"When I was a freshman, I could sometimes find, like midday, I could get a machine," Anderson said. "Now it's packed 24/7.

"With such an active campus, students expect to have the ability to exercise when they want," she said.

However, the fitness center is just part of the ongoing construction at the university. In the past 15 years, the campus has added 25 new or substantially redesigned facilities.

Jenkins Hall, an 11-story residential building, opened in the fall of 2013. The south wing of ResCom, another residence hall, was demolished and re-built last January.

An innovation and collaboration building is being built on N Boulevard, as an expansion of the Thomas Parking Garage. Four floors of it will be a garage, then two stories below will be classrooms, offices, study areas and a cafe. On the upper floor will be an entrepreneurship center.

The construction, of both the fitness center and the innovation and collaboration building, should not cause an inconvenience to students or staff. Neither will it delay anyone's workout since McNiff will stay open until the new center is finished.

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The center will be in front of McNiff, where the basketball and volleyball courts currently stand.

Contact Arielle Waldman at Awaldman@tampabay.com. Follow her @ariellewaldman.

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