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Construction plans for the $20 million Pottruck Health and Fitness Center seem to be as flexible as a gymnast. Penn officials have pushed back the project's starting date for the third straight time, with the construction now expected to begin next May. The renovations are still expected to be completed in 2003. The new fitness facility will add more than 65,000 square feet to the existing complex at Gimbel Gymnasium, with plans for aerobic, dance and martial arts studios. It will also offer a juice bar, pro shop and climbing wall along with classroom and administrative areas. According to Vice President of Facilities Omar Blaik, the project will begin in late spring when preparation for demolishing the area containing the Katz Fitness Center begins. During construction, Blaik added, existing cardiovascular equipment will be moved to the basketball courts on Gimbel's second floor. That will allow current fitness center members to continue using the equipment, although the move will reduce the number of usable basketball courts. In addition, vendors that occupy the fresh air food plaza next to Gimbel will have to be relocated. Although the University has not settled on a final site, Penn officials say they are looking at areas along the 3700 block of Sansom Street. "The options will all be in the same vicinity so they won't lose their clientele," Blaik said, noting that the vendors will remain next door to Gimbel until demolition starts. University officials first addressed the need for better exercise facilities in 1996 when a consulting firm recommended that Penn add a massive amount of recreational and field space to its campus. As a result, Gimbel underwent $1.2 million renovations in 1998 to construct the Katz Fitness Center. But in April 1999, Penn Trustee David Pottruck, a 1970 College graduate, made a $10 million donation to build a larger facility. Still, the timeline has been tweaked frequently. Last October, University officials announced plans calling for an accelerated schedule that would have completed construction by 2002. However, they revised that date last spring when they found the shorter time-frame would mean closing down the entire site -- including Gimbel, Katz and Sheerr Pool. A minimal amount of "preparation work" on the site was supposed to begin this summer. But it was pushed back until this May, in part due to the tight labor market. In the meantime, officials expect the final blueprints to be approved this fall

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