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

Jefferson Dodge | Boulder Weekly

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.


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.”

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.”

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.

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.

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.

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.”


Regent policy change

A recent change in Board of Regents policy ensures that the student vote on the project will be both required and binding.

hasn’t always been the case. In spring 2004, the elected student
leaders of UCSU’s Legislative Council approved a plan to phase in a
$400-per-year student fee that has helped fund the construction of
several academic buildings. Academic buildings had historically been
funded by the state, but Colorado’s economic downturn prompted the
students to help foot the bill themselves for several projects,
including the Wolf Law School, the ATLAS (Alliance for Technology,
Learning and Society) Building and the expansion/renovation of the
Leeds School of Business building.

fact that the fee was enacted without a vote of the student body irked
some, including Regent Tom Lucero. Lucero was one of the regents
spearheading a change in board policy last month that now requires all
student-fee increases “used to finance long-term debt for the
construction or remodeling of a building which is primarily used for
academic and/or athletic purposes” to be approved by a majority of the
students voting in an election.

was one of four regents who voted in favor of the policy change to
ensure that UCSU’s Legislative Council could not do what it did in 2004
— approve a student fee for construction without going to a vote of the
full student body.

told Boulder Weekly that the regents’ action last month does not
supercede the existing UCSU quorum requirement, meaning that at least
25 percent of the student body would have to cast votes in any election
on rec center improvements for it to be approved by a majority of those
voters. Student leaders say it is very rare to have 25 percent turnout
for an election.

Farivar, who, as Intercampus Student Forum chair, is the primary
student liaison to the regents, told Boulder Weekly that he was
disappointed by the regents’ policy change, in part because last spring
students at the Boulder campus had voted against a similar change to
their own student government constitution.

an attempt to exempt the rec center project from the regents’ new
policy, at the regents’ Nov. 11-12 meetings, Farivar pushed for an
amendment that would have defined “athletics” buildings only as those
serving Division I or Division II athletics. The regents struck down
that amendment.

said Legislative Council should retain the right to approve student
fees, because the students duly elected its membership, “just as the
Board of Regents is elected to do the same thing. That’s the beauty of
representative government.”

the student election in the spring in which a similar measure was voted
down, Lucero says there was some “miscommunication” regarding the
matter, but that he and other regents made it clear when they agreed to
table their proposed policy change months prior to the student election
that the regents would revisit the issue after student input was

Lucero compares his stance on student fees to TABOR, the state’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, under which tax increases are required to go to a vote of the people before they are approved.

says he doesn’t draw a distinction between students paying for academic
buildings traditionally paid for by the state and students paying for
auxiliary student facilities that they control, like the rec center.

says, however, that despite his concerns about the “arms race” that he
often sees in CU’s effort to have the biggest and best facilities, he
would not vote against a new student fee for the rec center, if it is
approved by a majority of at least 25 percent of the student body, and
providing that all details of the costs are spelled out clearly to the
students prior to the election.

Michael Carrigan, who was one of two regents voting against the change
in regent policy last month, says he did so because he believes in
student autonomy and self-governance. In the UCSU’s representative form
of government, he says, “I believe those leaders should be entrusted to
make good decisions.” Carrigan cites the student vote against the
change as another reason he voted against the new policy. Even if the
student government were to clearly overstep its bounds, he says, the
regents have the final say on fees and can vote down any cost increase
that is unreasonable.

Uphill battle

Student leaders say
they now face an uphill battle in getting the rec center project
approved, since they now need 25 percent of the student body to show up
at the polls. “It makes it more challenging now to serve students’
needs, if we’re unable to get the votes required to provide more
resources,” Farivar says.

Cicchinelli, chair of the Rec Board, agrees that while the 25 percent
turnout is a high hurdle, “our goal from the start was to get that 25
percent, because we want to make sure this is what the students want.”

says it is frustrating to see the unmet demand for recreation services
on campus. “We have lines out the door for intramurals,” Cicchinelli
says. “We have lines out the door for treadmills. We have lines out the
door for ellipticals. We have lines out the door for basketball. We
have such an active campus and a high usage rate, but our facilities
don’t match up.”

about her preferences for the project, she says she favors planning for
future decades of demand. “I’d like to see a rec center that can
accommodate students in 20 years,” Cicchinelli says. “I don’t want to
do a Band-Aid fix. We can keep doing maintenance, but if we’re going to
make the investment, I’d like to see us go all out and make the
investment to serve students into the future.”

acknowledges the concerns about the prospect of increasing student
fees, especially given the current state of the economy, “but the fees
aren’t going to hit for four or five years, so by that time I hope
economic conditions will have improved. We can’t stop everything
because of an economic downturn.”

Kent, she declines to throw out any ballpark figures on the cost of the
project or the anticipated increase in fees. “We’re looking at so many
scenarios — everything from a renovation to a complete rebuild,”
Cicchinelli says. “Maybe the students don’t want a new facility; maybe
they just want a facelift.”

says that for some reason, the figure $10 million sticks out in his
mind as being an early price tag for the project. “That’s probably
low,” Kent says, when asked about that projection.

Surveys, focus groups

says that the first student survey and focus groups about the proposal
will be launched in January. CU has retained Sink Combs Dethlefs
Architects for the project, as well as Brailsford and Dunlavey, a
facility planning and program management firm that will manage the
focus groups and surveys. Cicchinelli says that consulting firm was
hired because it has significant experience with college recreation
projects, including gathering student input.

to Kent, the first survey will focus on general issues like students’
needs, expectations and use patterns. “What I want them to do is to
tell us whether we even need an ice rink,” she says. A second survey
will be launched at the end of the spring semester, asking students
more specific questions about what the various improvements and
additions would cost, to gauge how much students are willing to spend —
and what it should be spent on.

“We’ve got a lot of listening to do,” says Meyer, the retired associate director.

“We want to make sure the students are the ones calling the shots on it.”

the facilities planner, is taking a big-picture stance on the
recreation needs, since he is involved in crafting a new 10-year master
plan for the entire campus. He says CU officials have even had some
preliminary talks with representatives from the city of Boulder about
the possibility of working together to build joint recreation
facilities that could be used by both the students and city residents.

Kent hastens to point out all of the energy-efficient measures that the rec center has taken to reduce costs.

tried to make it as environmentally friendly as an old dinosaur can
be,” Kent says. “We can continue to work with this. I’m not crying. But
I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t say we can do better.”