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Thursday, December 10,2009

Student leaders float proposal to expand, renovate CU's recreation center

By Jefferson Dodge

Is water from the CU ice rink leaking down into the women’s locker room that lies below?

Even if that is just a rumor, there’s no doubt that the 36-yearold Student Recreation Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder sorely needs some rehab, if not some serious bulking up.

CU student leaders are in the early stages of floating a proposal to renovate and expand the rec center, a project that would likely cost millions of dollars and require a significant increase in student fees, which again has become a sensitive topic among members of the Board of Regents.

Rec center officials are stressing that any plans for improving the rec center and related amenities depend entirely on the wishes of the student body, and they plan to bend over backwards to collect input from students via surveys and focus groups beginning in the spring semester.

But even if there is widespread support for the project, a policy change approved by the regents last month means that the project faces an uphill climb in getting approved by student voters.

Just condensation

As for the reports of the ice rink leaking, Tim Jorgensen, a rec center associate director, says the drips from the ceiling of the women’s locker room and other areas below the rink are actually just condensation.

But that doesn’t mean the rink — and the rest of the building — is without flaws.

For starters, the location of the ice rink is problematic. “We may be the only ice rink in the U.S. on the second floor,” Jorgensen says. “It’s a beautiful rink, it’s just not the best place for it.”

He adds that the Zamboni machines used to resurface the ice used to be the size of a Volkswagen Beetle when the rec center was first built in 1973, but now they are much larger — and heavier. “It’s not like a Zamboni’s going to fall through the floor, but it’s something we may need to deal with in the future, giving it more support,” Jorgensen says.

John Meyer, who served as associate director of programs at the rec center for 16 years, agreed to come out of retirement to help student leaders gather information on how the center stacks up against comparable universities in the Big 12 Conference and nationally.

He says one problem with the ice rink is that if its cooling system breaks down, the ice has to be chipped up and hauled out of the building fairly quickly, before it melts, since there isn’t a good drainage system for the rink if it is filled with water.

Meyer says deterioration of the facility is only natural, given that it’s almost 40 years old. “We’re getting close to what the lifespan is of these things,” he explains.

Phil Simpson, CU’s assistant director for facilities planning, points out that the rec center was built when CU only had about 22,000 students. It now has more than 30,000.

About 88 percent of CU students participate in the recreation services offered by the rec center and its affiliated programs, and student leaders say that utilization rate is above average compared to peer universities.

Even the 2001 campus master plan recognized a need for 100,000 square feet of additional indoor recreation space. Rec center Director Cheryl Kent says that number has now increased to about 150,000 square feet. The current facility is 213,000 square feet. An expansion was added in 1990, but student demand has outgrown it.

“We’ve got the crew team practicing in a squash court,” Kent says. “And there’s no running water in the hockey locker rooms.”

Kent doesn’t hazard a guess on how much the project will cost, because she says it depends entirely on what the students say they need. They may want to plan for future enrollment growth by adding more than the 150,000 square feet needed, they may only want to pay for 40,000 more square feet, or they may vote the project down altogether.

University of Colorado Student Union Tri-Executive Tom Higginbotham, a member of the Joint Board on Recreation Services (Rec Board), says student leaders are hoping to put a referendum about the rec center expansion and renovation to a student vote in spring 2011.

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