Long derided by students as a soft spot on an otherwise rock-solid campus experience, the Physical Enhancement Center is finally being supplied with much-needed funding this semester to combat the problems that have kept students away over the years.
“I’ve met a lot of students who are paying to go off campus to gyms, and I don’t think we need to be sending students off campus when we should be able to help you have that kind of stress relief (and) take care of yourself,” said Amy Hecht, the College’s new VP of Student Affairs, in an interview in January. “I think we need to do some work (on the PEC) — a lot of work.”
Despite getting a $200,000 renovation in 2011, the PEC suffers from perpetually broken-down machines, a lack of available free weights and overcrowding, which forces students to either avoid exercise or seek it elsewhere.
Some problems, such as the lack of space and the length at which machines stay broken, cannot be fixed: Enlarging the PEC is not an option, and when machines break down, the warranties on them force the College to wait for a third-party company for repairs.
Other issues, such as how the two squat racks face each other and cannot safely hold weights, can be fixed but haven’t been.
“Honestly, the TCNJ gym is a complete embarrassment,” said sophmore accounting major Michael D’Agostino, who uses the gym frequently to work out. “We shouldn’t have to spend more time waiting for equipment to use than actually working out at the gym.”
The school is pumping money into the PEC to get results, though, and it’s already paying
dividends as a small army of new equipment arrived over spring break, thanks to the $50,000 reserve fund recently added.
Among the additions are an adjustable pulley machine, a variety of dumbbells and three barbells, which have been tested with weight up to 1,000 pounds, with the latter being a much-needed fix after existing barbells were bent into banana shapes from extensive use in winter.
“In the past, I was very dissatisfied with the amount of equipment in the gym — there were dumbbells missing, broken benches, broken machines,” said Mark Hayase, a senior interactive multimedia major and powerlifter. “However, I went to the gym recently and found out they got new bars, new dumbbells and a new cable machine ... at least now they are making strides in replacing old, dangerous equipment.”
Another even more sizable shipment of equipment is scheduled for the summer as new items including jump ropes, benches and a deadlifting area will bring about the most significant change for on-campus gym quality in decades.
“It’s amazing what you can do if there’s funds, because you’re limited if there’s no funds. You might want to do the best things in the world, but if there’s no funds, then you have to hold your breath and hope you get the best you can,” said Dawn Henderson, the College’s associate athletic director and manager of the PEC. “I think we’re doing an OK job. My goal is to have a safe, clean operating room, and we do the best we can with those parameters.”
What Henderson cannot purchase for the PEC is a larger space, and students will have to make do with the claustrophobic nature of the gym until a new one is added through Campus Town in 2016.
“I think that there’s certain areas that we’re addressing with this sort of influx of new equipment,” Henderson said. “I think the problem is — and we’re really looking forward to the new CampusTown gym (which is bigger) — the room is really small, and we serve a campus of 6,000 undergraduates with a small room.”
In the interim before the new gym opens, though, the tightrope Henderson and the PEC have to walk is in pleasing two different kinds of people: the serious lifters training for long-term results and casual students seeking a diversion.
“When I took over a couple of years ago, what I found is we’re never going to be able to make everyone happy, because you have so many different kindS of people who want to use the gym,” Henderson said. “Some people want to use aerobics things and ab things while other people want to powerlift, and those are two very different things.”
The new equipment, specifically the deadlifting area scheduled to arrive in summer, shows a continued attempt at appealing to both casual and hardcore gym-goers — an initiative that has been successful.
“People hate on the PEC a lot, but I never really had any problems,” said Robb Veltman, a recent College graduate and competitive powerlifter who used the PEC for two years. “Really, I think it just depends on the atmosphere people want, I think. They let you grunt and lift heavy and use chalk (for serious lifters), but some people don’t like that. It’s not like a commercial gym at all, which I like, but I can see how some people don’t like that.”
Taking into account the recent improvements and the gym’s continued ability to cater to both kinds of lifters, the PEC is on what might be an unprecedented upward trajectory.
“I’m glad that they are making efforts to replace (and) improve the equipment, so I think that is a good sign for the PEC’s future,” Hayase said. “Overall, I have my share of complaints about the PEC, but in the time I’ve been training there, I made a lot of progress and I appreciate it for being so accessible, even if it is lacking some things I want. So I’m thankful for it.”