St. Paul gym draws more student users

Colleen Winters

The St. Paul Gymnasium seems to fit right in with its surroundings: Much like the campus it calls home, the gym is quieter and less crowded than its Minneapolis counterpart.
But several renovations to be finished in September might not only give the gym a new look but a new attitude.
When reconstruction is complete, the gym will feature a 75-foot-by-eight-lane pool, three fitness equipment areas, four handball-racquetball courts (two of which will be convertible to squash), two multipurpose rooms, a sauna, two family locker rooms, updated men’s and women’s locker rooms and a 24-foot high climbing wall.
The renovations, which will cost about $4 million, are part of the 1987 Recreational Sports Facilities Project. Included in the project are the construction of the University Aquatic Center and the University Recreation Center, which were completed in 1990 and 1993 respectively, and the future renovation of Cooke Hall.
Plans for the updates have been in place since 1990, but the rock-climbing wall was added to the list of changes in 1995 when a student review board suggested it, said Tony Brown, the gym’s program director.
“The climbing wall is something different that a lot of people will be attracted to,” said Jeff Olson, a junior journalism major who works at the gym. Olson, who has worked there for two years, said he expects to see gym participation double next year.
“We expect the same boom in activity that the Minneapolis (campus) got when the Recreation Center opened,” Brown said. Typically, about 10 percent of the St. Paul campus population uses the gym, but Brown said he wouldn’t be surprised to see students who don’t have classes on the St. Paul campus start using the facility.
Eric Rohlinger, a College of Liberal Arts junior, said he usually goes to the Recreation Center on the Minneapolis campus. But he said he started using the St. Paul Gym because of classes on that campus.
“It’s a lot less crowded over here,” Rohlinger said, adding that he thinks that will change when the renovations are complete. “Hopefully it won’t get as crowded as the rec center,” he said. But he said he plans to keep going there and looks forward to trying out the climbing wall.
The St. Paul Gym, which was built in 1917, already underwent some changes in 1990. Costing about $3.5 million, those changes included a complete building systems replacement with air conditioning, automatic fire protection, accessibility improvements and building envelope improvements. Additional mechanical systems were also added in anticipation of the current reconstruction.
The renovation has caused some inconveniences, but gym staff members are working around them, Brown said. In August, the gym’s original pool was closed down. Because the new pool won’t be completed until late September, the St. Paul Gym is offering a free shuttle service for swimmers. The shuttle has two departure and drop-off times and transports swimmers from the gym directly to the University Aquatic Center, Brown said.
He said gym users can anticipate future locker room closings, but the new locker rooms and showers will be completed by late next month. Gym hours also might vary until the renovations are completed.