New ‘Cassell Fitness Center’ creates space for AU gym-goers

American University’s newest exercise facility on the first floor of Cassell Hall opened its doors last Monday, providing much needed space to campus gym-goers.

With the help of a $3 million dollar donation from Jack Cassell, SOC/ BA ’77, AU hired Rockville-based Grunley Construction Co. to begin the project for the residence hall in May of 2012, which was completed in early September.

The Stafford H. Cassell Jr. Fitness Center, named after Jack Cassell’s twin brother, boasts an arsenal of LifeFitess equipment that includes 12 “self-powered” treadmills as well as a fleet of Hammer Strength weight stations. (Did his brother die?)

The gym is the most salient in a slew of changes that gym-members coming off of summer break will find as they head back into the workout room this year. In addition to closing exercise facilities in Letts, Anderson and McDowell halls, the university also cut down on public floor space inside of the Jacobs Fitness Center, AU’s most frequented gym. In the Jacobs center, the free-weight room is now reserved for members of varsity teams.

Dennis Granados, a senior who works out four times a week, is frustrated by the new policies. “Sometimes [what did he actually say?] tends to be crowded. Sometimes you have to cut your workout time,” he says.

But the prospect of a new place to lift is enticing. “I would definitely check it out. That would make up for the lost space,” he says.

The new space is exactly what the school had in mind, said Nancy Yasharoff, associate director of communication for the athletic department.

“We needed to alleviate some of the heavy traffic [in Jacobs]. The place was zooming in there,” she says.

In addition, the new fitness center will also open up the calendar for students and faculty looking to join workout classes. The gym has two exercise classrooms that share a retractable wall; when the wall is drawn back, it creates a space large enough for 70 people to take classes at a time, 40 more than the number able to do so when Jacobs is at capacity.

Safety First

For gym personnel, keeping an eye on the floor is key. A past injury involving an inexperienced patron and a 45-pound metal plate, Yasharoff says, emphasized the need for de-cluttering the workspace.

“When it comes to free weights,” Yasharoff says, “there’s always a risk whether you’ve been lifting for 20 years or are just a beginner.”

That is why having a visible staff ready to help out members will be a defining feature of Cassell, she adds.

Drawing the crowds

Dotting the 8,000-square-foot facility a week after its opening night are but few students in comparison to the number at Jacobs. Jocelyn Hill, the director of recreational sports, says the low volume is because the new building is still undergoing finishing touches.

“I need to get my mirrors. I need to get my furniture. The sound system’s being put in. Once we have a really complete look then we’ll do a campaign to let everybody know that we’re open,” she says.

In a phone conversation with Hill, she said that there are no immediate plans to further reallocate space in Jacobs to varsity teams. Instead, the university plans to open up a practice facility that would host a new wrestling room and other equipment reserved for varsity athletes.

“Because Bender is used by a lot of groups, having another facility would help us out,” says Hill.

The university is looking for donors for the practice facility. No time frame has been set for the project.

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