A new fitness center significantly larger than the current Watson gym could put campus athletic facilities in much better shape in the next few years.

A "state-of-the-art" fitness center will be completed "as soon as possible," said President Barry Mills in an interview with the Orient.

Mills said he would like to see a fitness center that could serve the entire Brunswick community. He hopes the College can raise enough money "to get plans going" in the next year.

"Why do you think I'm out trying to raise money?" Mills joked in the interview. He said that building a new fitness center is very important to him.

According to Dean of Student Affairs Craig Bradley, the estimated cost of the new fitness center would be approximately $5 million.

Bradley, who chaired a recent building committee, said, "We have carefully developed an estimate?thanks to Jim St. Pierre in the Athletic Department?that indicates we'd be best served to build between 10,500 and 12,000 square feet in a new facility."

Those numbers would include approximately 3,150 square feet of areas designated as multipurpose spaces.

The current fitness center has a total of 4,560 square feet of space, with 1,930 square feet for fitness machines on the south side of the building and 2,630 square feet for free weights on the north side, according to Bradley. It was built in 1995.

NESCAC's top-three main fitness centers in size?not including multipurpose spaces?belong to Middlebury College, Amherst College, and Wesleyan University, with 9,200 square feet, 8,000 square feet, and 7,500 square feet, respectively. Bowdoin's current center is third to last, only above those of Hamilton College and Connecticut College with 3,000 square feet and 2,900 square feet, respectively.

"We conceptualize a renovation of the west side of Morrell Gym, including where the coaches' offices and the old squash courts are," said Bradley.

"The ground floor of that side of the gym is 7,350 square feet, which would readily accommodate the projected needs for the cardio equipment?3,350 square feet?and the free weights?4,000 square feet. Upstairs there is 10,500 square feet of space [in the old squash courts]. We propose to use 7,500 of this for the new coaches' offices and create two new multipurpose spaces of 1,575 square feet each."

"Once we have some funds committed, the next step will be to select an architect and design the spaces," Bradley said.

Asked if he is pleased with the current status of the Watson Fitness Center, Director of Athletics Jeff Ward's answer consisted of just one word: "No."

Ward said a new fitness center "would have to be many things to many people...so students, staff, and faculty can choose how and when to work out in an environment that encourages them to come back." That would include enough aerobic equipment and free weights for an entire team plus others, and a room for martial arts and other activities, said Ward.

He also indicated that he would like to see a new fitness center have a big enough area so there are open spaces, but enough visual barriers to offer some privacy. Ward said fitness centers like the one at Middlebury College are too wide open and do not offer enough privacy for those who may be concerned about people staring.

Ward, who served on the building committee with Bradley, said, "It is clear [building a new fitness center] has strong institutional support."

He noted that support is nothing new.

"A new fitness center was, I believe, on one of the earliest lists for the capital campaign," he said.

Asked if he thinks the current fitness center might discourage certain prospective students or athletes from coming to Bowdoin, Ward said that would be very hard to judge.

"People come to Bowdoin for the community, not the facilities...The reason a new fitness center would be built is because of the high student need, not for admissions reasons," he said.

Support for a new fitness center is indeed highest with current students.

"There is definitely a consensus among the student body that Bowdoin needs to revamp and enlarge its gym," said junior Emma Cooper-Mullin.

"I would like to see more free weights and more treadmills," said Maria Noucas '09.

Cooper-Mullin added that the current challenge is "the general lack of space, and the problem of sharing the gym with many sports teams."

"I would like to see more ellipticals...Also, some of the weight machines really need to be replaced. You can't do a bicep curl on one of them without it squeaking like crazy," said Sara Afienko '08.

Bowdoin Student Government Vice President of Facilities William Donahoe '08 said he "prioritized a new gym at the February trustees meeting in the Facilities and Properties Committee" when they asked him what was the most pressing facilities need for students.

"[The trustees] are well aware that a new facility is needed and are very willing to get a new one. They just need to find the money to start planning," he said.

There is hope, however, that before a new fitness center is built some improvement may be made to the current situation.

"We are trying to get more treadmills in the meantime," said Mills.

More free weights have been added to the Farley Field House multipurpose room this year and have received positive reviews, according to Ward.

As for the recent surge in treadmill break-downs, Ward attributed most of that to a recent electrical circuit problem that may have been spurred on by nearby construction for the new performance hall. He said 90 percent of the recent problems have been because of the electrical problems, not the machines, and that he is confident the problem has been solved.

Donahoe assured the Orient that once conclusive plans are in place for a new fitness center, there will be a focus group and "town hall" so students can express their preferences.

What could happen to the space the Watson Fitness Center currently occupies after a new center is constructed is yet to be determined.

"While we have not yet made any decisions...we have talked in general terms about the possibility of moving the bookstore to where the current fitness center is and using the vacated bookstore space for student organization spaces," said Bradley.

Anne Riley contributed to this report.