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Tsai Fitness Center shaping up as premier health facility

With 27,000 pounds of free weights, the Tsai Fitness Center is now the place on campus to tone muscle — or build muscle by pumping some serious iron. Photo by Kalman Zabarsky

This story was published in the BU Bridge on March 1, 2005.

If the words eye-popping and heart-stopping are overused describing a large new campus facility, especially one full of light and open space, what then would be an appropriate adjective to describe the Tsai Fitness Center?

With 27,000 pounds of free weights and more than 100 pieces of cardiovascular equipment on two levels at the Fitness and Recreation Center, how about heart-pumping?

Before coming to BU five years ago, Rossella Avitabile-Muller, fitness manager at the Tsai Fitness Center, worked at three health clubs. But they all pale in comparison. “This is the best gym I’ve ever seen,” she says.

It’s easy to see why she makes such a statement. The cardiovascular equipment consists of 33 Precor treadmills, 30 Precor crosstrainers, 32 Precor stationary bicycles, 6 Precor stairclimbers, 2 Stairmaster stepmills, and 4 Concept II rowing machines.

The Case Physical Education Center, which closed on March 31, contained weight-training and fitness rooms, as does the Sargent Gymnasium at 1 University Road, which shuts its doors at the end of the semester. But the considerable difference between the old and the new is evident immediately upon walking through the turnstiles at the Tsai Fitness Center. The Case Center had 32 pieces of cardio equipment. Sargent Gym has 16. The old facilities had 6,000 square feet of space. The Tsai Fitness Center has 18,000 square feet. “As far as capacity goes, we were pushing the limit at Case and Sargent,” Avitabile-Muller says.

And then there is the important issue of accessibility. “When a physical education class was taking place at Case or Sargent, the equipment was completely unavailable to the University community,” she says. “Now there are separate areas, so a class can take place while other people are working out.”

Avitable-Muller also points out the Tsai Fitness Center is open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. on weekdays, and from 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekends — several hours longer than BU’s old gyms. In fact, most Boston fitness centers close at 10 p.m. on weekdays and 8 p.m. on weekends. “People are able to base their workout activities on their schedules, rather than ours,” she says. “In the past, the case was just the opposite.”

Molly Francis (SMG’05) works out on one of the Tsai Fitness Center’s 33 treadmills. Photo by Kalman Zabarsky


Aesthetically, she says, there is no comparison between the cramped Case Center basement, with its low ceiling — not to mention the antique look of Sargent Gym — and the Tsai Fitness Center, which is named after donor Gerald Tsai, Jr. (CAS’49, GRS’49, Hon.’03). From the front entrance of the Fitness and Recreation Center, walls of windows, a juice bar, and some of the workout equipment are immediately visible. “When we talked to the architects, wide open space was one of our requests,” says Avitable-Muller as we walk up the main spiral staircase. “We wanted to accommodate a large number of users, but not have them feel like they’re right on top of each other when they’re working out.”

At the top of the stairs, on the second floor rotunda, panoramic views meet the eye. Equipment in front of large windows facing the street enables exercisers to watch the hustle and bustle of Commonwealth Avenue. Another set of windows looks out over a gymnasium, so taking in a basketball game is an option while, for example, doing leg presses. “Downstairs we have fitness machines overlooking the competition pool,” she says.

Those who prefer to watch television or listen to the radio can work out in areas of the Tsai Fitness Center equipped with Cardio Theatre technology: simply plug headphones into the cardiovascular equipment.

There is equipment for every type of exercise regimen, from complete circuit training to “selectorized” machines that focus on certain areas of the body, such as the abdominal muscles and the back. Five attendants are on duty to answer questions about how to use any of the equipment. Personal trainers are also available.

Warin Dexter, director of physical education, says that the Tsai Fitness Center will play a vital role in the lives of students, faculty, and staff. “This is a place where healthful habits can be developed and maintained,” he says. “Juvenal pointed out the importance of a sound mind in a sound body. You can’t have one without the other.”