Field House still popular even with new rec center

BY KATIE HEINE | MARCH 03, 2011 7:20 AM

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Connie Hippee has been using the University of Iowa’s Field House since she was a little girl growing up in Iowa City.

And for the past year, the 54-year-old has been playing raquetball on the Field House’s courts.

The amenity is something she can’t get at the new $69 million Campus Recreation & Wellness Center, and she prefers the quieter and less crowded older building.

“It’s not the same people every day,” the research assistant at the University of Iowa’s College of Public Health said. “I’d be sad to see it go.”

Harry Ostrander, the director of UI Recreational Services, said no specific plan exists for the future of the Field House. The building will remain unchanged until it becomes a financial burden or under-utilized, he said.

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Attendance at the Field House dropped from about 5,000 visitors a day to half of that after the the opening of the new rec center, which now sees about 5,000 a day. But the 2,500 people using the Field House has stayed steady, and officials said they are happy with that number.

Eventually, if necessary, the university will move all the equipment out of the Field House and transport it near the rec center to create one large recreational hub, Ostrander said.

“The [rec center] was designed with the future down the road,” Ostrander said, noting the building’s south end can accommodate an attachment, connected by a bridge.

Although officials considered constructing the conjoined facilities simultaneously, replacing and rebuilding the Field House would have been a $140 million unaffordable project, Ostrander said.

But now, some staff members are split between both facilities, and a few staff positions have been duplicated, he said.

“It’s certainly more cost-effective to have all our services in one location,” Ostrander said.

And he said that while officials had expected the new rec center to be popular, the traffic has exceeded their expectations.

“It’s been packed; we’ve been pleased with the attendance,” he said.

In response to the high use, officials extended the new facility’s hours, expanded the free-weight area, and added two additional free-weight stations. Nearly 600 individuals are also on a waiting list to purchase a permanent locker because all 1,200 are now occupied, Ostrander said.

But the crowds and constant activity has kept some people away.

Steve Polyak, a UI assistant professor of gastroenterology, said he chooses not to work out at the new rec center because he works near the Field House.

“The facilities at the rec are awesome,” Polyak said. “But the Field House serves its purpose.”

UI sophomore Adi Sehic, who lives in Reinow, said he works out at the Field House four times a week. The proximity of the facility is one of the reasons he chooses the Field House, he said. But he likes the atmosphere as well.

“I like the feel of it,” Sehic said. “It’s bigger and almost has a more homey feel. [The rec center] is new, and I feel like there is more history in this building.”

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