Weight room enhanced with new machines

The Williams College Fitness Center underwent extensive renovation this summer, with the installation of $180,000 of new, state-of-the-art equipment. The project – bankrolled by the College’s General Fund – was considered much-needed, but some faculty and staff have questioned the usefulness of the new equipment to non-athletes.

The facility has undergone “a tremendous amount of change,” according to Fletcher Brooks, its coordinator. “Essentially, we got rid of everything and brought in all-new equipment. The only things we kept are three platforms and one leg curl machine, which were bought in the last three years.”

“We chose to purchase pieces of equipment from whichever company made it best,” added Brooks. “We’ve got a dozen or more companies represented in the weight room. Anything in the weight room is as good as it gets – better than anything you will find in NESCAC.”

Concerns and reactions

Although it has only been complete for a few weeks, the remodeled fitness center has been a major topic of discussion on campus.

“The feedback that I am getting for the most part from the students is fantastic,” said Harry Sheehy III ’75, director of athletics for the College.

“A big plus has been the new Nautilus equipment, which draws a lot of people who are non-athletes,” said Freeden Oeur ’03, a lacrosse player who frequents the weight room. “The Nautilus equipment is specifically designed to be very easy to use.”

However, though the renovation has been fairly well-received by the student body, a number of faculty and staff members have expressed a great deal of concern over the new equipment.

“People are quite passionate about the room,” said Peter Grudin, assistant dean of the College. “I know that I am. It means a lot to them.”

Karen Kwitter, a professor of astronomy, was concerned about the new equipment’s ease of use. “The result [of the installation of the new machines] is a place that is both less welcoming and less suited to the general – i.e. not terribly athletic – user like me,” she said.

“It is clear to me that the use of the facilities by folks like me was not given sufficient consideration,” said Kwitter. “I hope that the College will find a way to accommodate us.”

Brooks said he was aware of concerns “that I built an athletes’ weight room,” but he said, “That was not my intention at all. I designed it with the students in mind, but I also know that a well-rounded facility needs certain things. I know that this is a facility used by townspeople, faculty and staff and I know that this is a benefit.”

“This is not and was never intended to be a varsity weight room,” said Sheehy. “We want this to be a space that the college community enjoys.”

Another concern for some faculty members is the fitness center’s intimidating look. Upon entering the facility, the first pieces of equipment one sees are several large, imposing weight platforms.

“When the new machines came in, the mass of them was perceived to be the kind of machines that athletes or body builders use,” said Grudin.

The platforms allow for many different weight-training exercises in a compact area and, due to the fitness center’s lack of size, space-efficiency was a major issue.

“The reason we have these platforms is because you can get a lot done in a smaller space,” said Brooks. “It allowed me to get more machines and more of everything else.”

Additionally, Brooks said, “a major concern was that the equipment is not selectorized. It’s not as convenient.” Selectorized equipment allows the user to change the weight of a machine by moving a pin, while plate-loaded equipment requires the user to carry and put weight stacks on each machine.

The new plate-loaded equipment is inconvenient, Kwitter said, because she now must unload the large number of weights from the previous user, find the weights she needs and load them onto the machine.

“It is very much less useful to me than with the old shabby equipment,” she said. “The cycle time [the total workout time] is much longer now.”

“The only reason we have these plate-loaded pieces is because they are better,” Brooks said. “I want the best possible pieces regardless of being plate-loaded or selectorized.”

While the old machines were primarily selectorized, the new machines are evenly split, at 15 apiece, between selectorized and plate-loaded.

“My reaction is not so much to the machines,” said Grudin. “Some of those new machines are really great. But I am concerned about people who are not as strong as I who want to use the machines and are not able to take the weights off.”

The final concern rests with the familiarity of the new equipment. As with anything new, many of the regular fitness center users are not familiar with the new machines. Lacking knowledge of how to use the equipment and intimated by the machine’s hard-core appearance, some people have been intimidated by the new machines at the renovated fitness center.

“I think that the main issue is making it welcoming for all of the community and to make people sensitive to the needs of all other people,” said Grudin. “I think we have to make sure the room belongs to everybody and not just one group.”

“Everybody ought to be using it,” he added. “We all know how important health is, but I am wondering why more people don’t use it. Have they not gotten into the right frame of mind for exercise or do they feel intimidated?”

The renovation

Before last month, most of the fitness center equipment was from the 1970s and 1980s, with at least one weight bench dating back to Williams’ first weight room in the 1950s.

“Equipment just does not last that long,” said Brooks. “The changes that have been made in the fitness center have been leaps and bounds ahead. The [new] machines are smoother and more bio-mechanically sound.”

Students began pushing for a renovated weight room a few years ago.

“Students seem to get things done around here,” said Brooks. “The College Council sent out a campus wide e-mail that had questions about the use of the facility. There really was a lot of interest in updating the facility.”

“The College Council did a tremendous job as far as getting us going to change the weight room,” he continued.

After realizing the student interest in the fitness center and touring weight rooms at other colleges, Carl Vogt ’58, former president of the College, began to work with Brooks last year on how to improve the facility.

“I did a lot of research [with] volumes of material,” said Brooks. “I put a lot of time and energy into this.”

In order plan the new fitness center, Brooks worked with a special fitness equipment expert. “We used a consultant, one of the most recognized and respected fitness consultants in the world,” Brooks said. “He advised me in some of the selection of the pieces.”

With the addition of the new equipment for the fitness center, the College gave away virtually all of the old equipment.

“First, we went to any coaches for those who have teams and might want to use it,” said Brooks. “Whatever else we had that Mt. Greylock wanted, they got it. A few pieces went to South Vermont College.”

The future

To help familiarize the faculty, staff and townspeople with the new facility, Brooks will hold six training sessions over the next two weeks. Though students are not invited to these sessions, they are encouraged to join a weight-training physical education class if they are interested in learning how to use the new equipment.

Additionally, for the first time ever, there will be a student monitor in the facility every hour the fitness center is open.

Although the new equipment has greatly improved the fitness center, this renovation is not a long-term solution.

“The key to the discussion of an improved fitness center is the future of the proposed performing arts center,” wrote Carrie Ryan ’00 in CC’s first semester recap from last year. “If the dance department decides to keep its space in Lasell [Gymnasium], then the plans for a larger weight room/fitness center will have to include major construction to expand the building. If the dance department moves, then the weight room/fitness center could expand in that space.”

“I certainly hope that this is a temporary upgrade. At some point, I hope that we will have a new space,” said Sheehy. “But we don’t have that, so we decided to upgrade the center with the best equipment possible. I hope that this issue continues to be student-driven.”