U works on shaping up rec facilities

A University official said some of the problems are being worked on.

Angela Gray

Inside the recreational centers on campus one can find people lifting dumbbells, running on treadmills, chasing racquetballs and, of course,­­ waiting in line.

Jim Turman, assistant vice provost for Student Affairs and director of the recreational sports department, said the University knows the facilities are overcrowded and that students often have to wait in line to use equipment. The University is working on ways to improve this, he said.

Last spring the University hired consultants to conduct focus groups, analyze recreational sports facilities and suggest ways to better serve students through recreational sports.

“We are trying to right-size our facility and figure out what our building plan is for the future,” he said. “The plans will probably have more shape and form by next year.”

Already approved by the Board of Regents is a University park north of Fifth Street Southeast where tennis courts have been built.

The park will have renovated recreational fields, including a skate park, two indoor fields for year-round use and a new or renovated baseball stadium.

Turman said it would be a joint project between the athletics department and recreational sports.

A new boathouse for men’s crew club and women’s varsity crew will be built on the East Bank river flats, Turman said.

University surveys suggested that 65 percent of undergraduate and graduate students participate in programs or use services in one of the University recreational facilities at least one to three times per week.

“Last year 18,000 to 19,000 different students used one of the recreational centers,” he said.

Turman said it is important to serve the University and make improvements to accommodate the space issues.

“National research and our own research show that students involved in recreational sports tend to have higher grade point averages, better graduate rates, better retention rates and a greater sense of affiliation with the institution,” he said.

He also emphasized the health and wellness benefits.

“To be involved in recreational sports and have an active lifestyle helps prevent risks for heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, stress management and (promotes) emotional well-being,” he said.

The University has five main recreational facilities, including the St. Paul Gymnasium, the Aquatic Center, the recreation center, Cooke Hall and the Field House.

Turman said the recreation center is the largest employer of the University with 34 full-time staff members and 600 student employees.

In comparison J. Michael Dunn, director of Recreational Sports at Ohio State University, said 10,000 to 13,000 students use one of its five recreational facilities during a Monday-through-Thursday period and 5,000 to 9,000 students come during the weekend.

Ohio State’s recreational center has 14 graduate associates, 53 full-time staff workers and 900 student-workers.

Dunn said his university’s most recent project is a 567,459 gross-square-foot recreational facility. The first phase of this facility opened August 2005, and the second phase is scheduled to open January 2007. The newest facilities will cost $140 million.

“We hope to add an 18-hole disc-golf course, additional social games (sand volleyball courts, bocce ball, etc.) and a picnic shelter,” Dunn said.

He said within one to five years they also hope to add a skate park and additional outdoor basketball courts.

“We are always asking the students what they would like to see and making decisions to move forward as the resources and support present themselves,” Dunn said.

He said, “Over the past 10 years we went from having some of the least and oldest facilities not only in the Big Ten, but also across the country, to having some tremendous state-of-the-art facilities.”

Dunn said the facilities Ohio State has or is developing are the ones students have said they are interested in.

Ryan Montgomery, Ohio State communications and aviation junior, said “students seem to love the place.”

“It can get very, very crowded at some points of the day when most classes are wrapped up and people are off work,” he said.

“It can be tough to get a good lift in,” Montgomery said. “But most of the time the wait isn’t bad at all, because there are plenty of other machines to use.”

He said Ohio State’s recreational center offers “great hours” being open at the latest until 2 a.m., compared with Minnesota’s, which closes at 11 p.m. and the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s, which closes at 10 p.m.

John Horn, director of programs at Wisconsin-Madison, said it has five total facilities, as do Minnesota and Ohio State.

This year there were 1.3 million student uses of the Wisconsin-Madison recreational center, which has 25 full-time staff members and 400 student-employees.

“We have major plans in the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s master plan to renovate or build new facilities,” he said.

Amy Thornton, a second-year public health administration and policy graduate student, has used Minnesota’s and Wisconsin-Madison’s recreational centers.

“(Minnesota’s) recreational center is more inviting because of the openness, windows, proximity and parking on campus,” she said.

Thornton said a feature Madison’s recreational center has that the University lacks is an “enormous room full of huge plasma screen TVs.”

“You can watch CNN, MTV and shows like ‘Trading Spaces,’ ” Thornton said.

Thornton said it is difficult to choose which recreational center she preferred, but did like that the Madison recreation center offered free aerobic classes whereas the University’s aerobic classes require a fee.

Turman said improving the recreational facilities is important for the University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities campuses because they support the educational mission of the institution to provide a well-rounded experience.