UI Rec Center experiencing growing pains


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One of The University of Iowa’s newest and most popular campus buildings is experiencing growing pains, despite being open for just over two years.

The three-level, 215,000 square-foot Campus Recreation & Wellness Center opened in summer of 2010 at the intersection of Burlington and Madison Streets at a cost of $70 million.

Despite its growing popularity among the UI and Iowa City communities, official plans have yet to be submitted for the second phase of the two-part project.

“The master plan [is that the] block south of the center [owned by the UI] could be re-purposed for expansion,” said Rod Lehnertz, the director of planning, design, and construction for UI Facilities Management. “Beyond that, there are no plans in place to expand right now.”

However, he said, the Rec Center has exceeded UI officials’ expectations.

“It’s close to the campus core and is on the bus routes,” he said. “We wanted to make sure that we were getting the biggest bang for our buck.”

UI freshman Jackson Koellner sees future recreational expansion as necessary.

“I think that any expansion to the Rec Center is good, being that it’s already crowded,” he said. “I’m always fighting for room at the Rec.”

UI Director of Recreational Services Harry Ostrander echoed Lehnertz’s thoughts.

“As far as phase two of the [center], we have no preliminary plans,” he said. “We could be talking a few years or 10 to 20 years. However, I am meeting with various staff and folks on campus about preliminary expansion now.”

He pointed out growing daily attendance as an indicator of a necessary expansion.

“We have 4,000 to 6,000 people a day come through the doors of the [center] and 300 men and 300 women waiting to use our permanent lockers alone,” he said.

Ostrander said a laundry list of additional amenities in the Rec Center will be needed in the coming years, including racquetball courts, at least six more basketball courts, six to 10 more activity rooms, badminton courts, and 20,000 square feet of fitness space.

“I want 10,000 square feet just for free weights,” he said. “We’re looking at additional food options, and we want to have a lot more lounge space and maybe a teaching kitchen and daycare. I think we need to add a minimum of 2,000 more lockers in this facility for phase two.”

Ostrander said that the busiest period for campus recreational facilities is from November to February.

“We have had 22,000 [people] since Monday,” Ostrander said about the Rec Center. “We haven’t considered expanding hours to a 24-hour service yet.”

Despite having almost 700,000 square-feet of total recreational space on campus, Ostrander sees more accommodations needed in the future.

“I certainly think that it’s feasible that we could move into the neighborhood of 1 million square feet of indoor rec space,” he said.

Last year, more than 1.3 million visits were made to all of the UI’s recreational facilities, — 900,000 of which were to the Rec Center.

While no timeline has been set to expand the center, improvements are being made to the Field House.

Ostrander said a 13-month renovation and modification project is slated to begin next week, in order to accommodate for the new Children’s Hospital tower. The project will construct a roadway through the “Main Street,” or main entrance, between the South Gym and swimming pool. A second entrance will also be constructed on the west side of the building.

UI junior Sarah Rocca, a lifeguard at the Rec Center, said she favors expanding the center and the removal of the Field House.

“‘I’d like to see a cycling room like the Field House has,” she said. “And it’d be cool if they had a cool-down pool for huge swimming meets during long-course season. I think it’d be more convenient for every recreational service to be in one location.”

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