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Thursday, December 10,2009

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

By Jefferson Dodge

A tour

Kent gave Boulder Weekly a tour of the rec center this week, pointing out some of the facility’s flaws.

In addition to its main pool, the center relies on two much older pools, one in Carlson Gymnasium and one partially located under a section of an academic building, Clare Small Arts and Sciences. To get to the Clare pool, one must go through a chained-off area leading to a tunnel, under a sign that reads, “Clare Small Pool, est.

1910.” One side of that low-ceilinged natatorium’s floor is cracked and slants sharply downhill, and Kent acknowledges that there are conflicting engineering reports about whether that end of the building is gradually slipping down the hillside. The depth at one end of the four-lane pool is shallow, unsuitable for competition. “You don’t want to do a roll in three feet of water,” she says.

Above the rec center’s main pool, one can see rust along the joints in the ceiling. The interior ductwork needs to be replaced within five years, and the entire center’s roof is beyond its usable life. There is a roof leak along the upstairs cardio area that looks out onto the pool.

In the weight-training systems room, a thick layer of ice is visible along the bottom of the large refrigeration tubes that keep the ice frozen in the rink above. Long trays have been installed under those tubes, to collect the water that drips from the ice when it melts from the heat of the warm rooms below. De-humidifiers have been installed throughout the building to mitigate the condensation.

A sign outside of the martial arts/yoga room, which is under the rink, asks participants to keep the door closed to keep moisture out, to allow the de-humidifiers to do their work.

Several years ago, the failure of the ice rink’s cooling system caused melting that seeped into an office off the childcare center, resulting in standing water on the floor. “The kids are safe, but we don’t hesitate to close it if we need to,” Kent says. “Nobody’s in danger of anything; it’s just a pain and a money drain.”

Outside, the tennis courts are constantly cracking.

Some say it’s shifting soil; others say there may be a water main leaking underground. The floors of the basketball courts are warped because they suffer from dry rot; one court floor will be replaced next summer, to the tune of $25,000. “At some point, the whole thing needs to be redone,” Kent says.

In the weight room at the east side of the building, the weight bars had to be replaced because condensation was causing rust.

The freight elevator is broken, so rec center employees can’t move the portable bleachers stored on the fourth floor down to the ice rink for events. Instead, they have to rent bleachers, passing that cost on to those who need the extra spectator space, she says.

Approaching the fitness instruction program office on a snowy day, Kent asks a staff member, “Any roof leaks?” The reply, which comes under the din of the building’s air-handling units, is, “No, not yet.”

Alternative uses

Early in the tour, Kent starts discussing the alternative uses that have been found for various rooms, closets and corners.

The tour of the squash and racquetball courts reveals that nearly half are being used for other purposes. One is filled with rowing machines. Another is used for equipment storage. A third serves as the home hockey team’s locker room. One is a cardio room, and one contains a climbing wall.

A portion of the women’s locker room has been converted into a conditioning area. A section of the men’s locker room has been walled off for spinning classes. A janitor’s closet is being used as a Pilates reformer studio, and it doubles as a massage room.

The restrooms on either side of the rink are small, and can’t accommodate the large crowds that periodically attend events there. The weight-training systems room is also small, compared to peer universities, and the rec center only has three indoor basketball courts, which is also way below par for a school with CU’s enrollment. According to Meyer, the Big 12 average is 11.5 courts, and Iowa State has 31.

Kent laments that if a person in a wheelchair happens to come in through the west entrance, to find an elevator he or she would have to go all the way to the east side of the facility, either along the ice rink or along the general gymnasium, which houses a bouldering wall, ping-pong tables, a badminton net, volleyball courts and a fitness studio, most of which are separated by cloth netting.

The entrances to most of the racquetball and squash courts are still old school: three-foot-high doors.

There are at least four “front desks” in the rec center. Two admit patrons, one checks out equipment and one handles intramurals. Kent says it would be nice to have a central “hub” for those desks, perhaps at a single main entrance area, to provide students with one-stop shopping.

The coaches for 50 club sports share a single, small office, and most don’t even bother coming in, managing their sports from their homes. There is a single, private restroom for the transgendered and gender-neutral, as well as for families with small children. It has an upended bench from a hockey locker room in it, a leftover from the previous weekend’s hockey games.

The rec center’s meeting rooms, separated by heavy curtains, are always in high demand.

“Every single space is used for something; there’s no nook or cranny left,” says Kent, who has only been director a couple of years. “I inherited a great staff who keep this dinosaur going.”

Asked about possible expansion and improvement options, Kent says she doesn’t want to prejudice the students toward a particular outcome. She is reluctant to share copies of a preliminary feasibility study or an early PowerPoint presentation. The options are still wide open, she says. “I don’t want our assumptions to taint their assumptions.”

Still, during the tour, Kent mentions that one option is to expand the indoor pool south, into the courtyard area, which could free up the Carlson and/or Clare pool areas for redevelopment as academic space.

The existing ice rink could be used for new basketball courts. The rink could go where the tennis courts are, or even under the courts’ current location, which could result in energy efficiencies, having the rink kept colder under ground. The tennis courts, which represent one of the most logical areas for expansion, could be relocated elsewhere on campus, perhaps to a rooftop location.

Kent catches herself before lobbying too strongly for a bigger and better facility, stressing once again that it’s up to the students. After all, she is an employee of the students, an organization that controls the nation’s largest student-run budget.

“People have loved this place to death — it’s worn out,” Kent says of the rec center. “We’re bursting at the seams. … We were the biggest and best in the 1970s, but it’s not 1973 anymore.”

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