Board approves $60 mil. for rec center expansion

The plan will include more exercise space, locker rooms and a new rock climbing wall.

Conor Shine

A planned $60 million expansion to the University of Minnesota’s recreation center will increase the amount of recreational space on campus by more than a third, but it will still not be enough to meet the campus’s needs.
The 145,000-square-foot expansion will include two new gymnasiums, more space for fitness equipment, more locker rooms, a jogging track and a climbing wall.
The design for the addition, which will sit south of the Aquatic Center and north of Scholars Walk, was presented for the first time at the Board of Regents meeting on Wednesday. The board approved the expansion, which will bring the total amount of recreation space on campus to 545,000 square feet.
But the plan still falls roughly 660,000 square feet short of what national guidelines state the University would need to serve all of its students, Dr. Jim Turman, the director of recreational sports, said.
The rec center was undersized when it was built in 1993, and the number of students living on or near campus has increased significantly while the amount recreation space has stayed the same, creating a strain on facilities, Turman said.
The building will be financed primarily through the Student Capital Enhancement Fee introduced at the start of the fall 2008 semester.  The fee is being phased in over five years and will cap at $75 per student per semester.  It is expected to raise about $79 million a year, director of Financial Analysis Lincoln Kallsen said. It will fund the entire project.
The project should be finished by spring 2013, and the rec center would remain open during construction, said Turman, who is also an assistant vice provost for student affairs.
Overcrowding is a major issue and is one of the reasons students avoid using the rec center, he said.  About 6,000 people use the center daily, but after the expansion, Turman estimated that number could double.
“We know that one of the things that keeps students away from facilities is having to wait for equipment and waiting in line,” Vice Provost for Student Affairs Jerry Rinehart said during the board presentation at the regents meeting. “There’s a great deal of demand for this.”
Kinesiology senior Anna Fernandez said she works out two to three times a week but often goes to Lifetime Fitness, where she is a member, because of how crowded the rec center is. 
“They have sign-up sheets for the cardio equipment [at the rec center], which I think is ridiculous,” she said.
In addition to the expansion, the University is also considering building another recreation building on the West Bank to alleviate overcrowding, but the project is still in pre-planning stages.
Graduate student Jacob Wascalus said he enjoys swimming at the rec center and goes when he has free time. But because most of his classes are on the West Bank, finding time to venture there can be tough.
“It seemed like last year I lived on West Bank,” he said.  “If there was a rec center over there, I’d definitely be more likely to clear my head by exercising.”
In addition to providing more space for current students, Rinehart said the expanded rec center will help draw more students to the University. 
“For many students, [the rec center] is a major factor in deciding to go to the school,” he said. Rinehart cited a recent study stating that 30 percent of students choose not to attend an institution based on the quality of its facilities.
Research has shown that students who use the rec center or participate in programs there tend to have higher retention and graduation rates, as well as better grades, Rinehart said.
The expansion could also have a positive impact in those areas, he said, and “should contribute to improving the sense of satisfaction and sense of community … within this campus.”