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New student recreation facility discussed

by Karen A. Grava - April 30, 2007

The need for a new student recreational facility and outdoor fields was the focus of discussion last week at the annual meeting of the Trustees, Administration, Faculty, and Students Committee (TAFS).

Meeting in the Bishop Center, the committee explored the need for the facilities, possible financing options, and potential building sites.

The committee has a tradition of discussing issues of broad interest to the campus, such as substance abuse.

The demand for recreation programs has skyrocketed. Enrollment has grown from 15,328 in 1998 – when the renovated Field House reopened – to 20,363 last fall. In addition, students, staff, and faculty are more fitness conscious. And the 2003 Substance Abuse Task Force recommended expansion of recreational programs.

“We need new facilities because the ones we have are simply too small, too worn out, and too inflexible to meet the needs of today’s campus community and recreational programming,” said Patti Bostic, executive director of recreational services.

Andrew Marone, president of the Undergraduate Student Government, said updated facilities would be attractive to incoming students and would be an added incentive for students to remain here after they enroll.

“New facilities would drive the choice by students to come here and stay here,” he said.

Recreation programs offered include fitness facilities, intramurals, group exercise, outdoor adventure programs, and other activities. Club sports (such as polo) are offered through Residential Life.

There are often lines of people waiting for cardio and weight equipment, racquetball courts, and the climbing center, and waiting lists for team sports, said Bostic.

The recreation program uses facilities in various locations on campus, including space shared with varsity athletics and space in Putnam Refectory.

Participation in intramural programs has grown from 31,890 visits in 2003 to more than 40,000 last year, Bostic said, and demand continues to grow.

Some amenities that might be offered in a new facility include wood courts for basketball, volleyball, badminton, and other sports, squash courts, additional weight rooms, studios for aerobics, yoga, and martial arts, an aquatic center, bowling alley, wellness center, and juice bar.

Bostic said the ideal would be to locate the recreation building alongside fields, although that could delay the project.

While the cost of new facilities is not yet known, options for financing new fitness facilities, including outdoor fields, could include using some UConn 2000 funds reallocated from other projects, issuing special obligation bonds that would be repaid with student fees, and private fundraising, said Lorraine Aronson, vice president and chief fiscal officer.

The facilities may offer naming opportunities for donors.

Reallocating UConn 2000 funds may be difficult, however, since the replacements for the Arjona/Monteith and Torrey Life Sciences Building, and the addition of facilities for engineering, are the top priorities for the remaining funds, she said.

“Philosophically, we have always believed that UConn 2000 funds should be used primarily for academic enterprises,” said University President Philip E. Austin.

“That philosophy remains fundamentally sound.”

The process for planning new facilities would involve identifying funding sources, hiring a design professional and then determining the scope of the project, selecting the location or locations for the facilities, and establishing a time frame for construction, said Barry Feldman, vice president and chief operating officer.

Ultimately, some challenging decisions will have to be made on these issues, he said.

Thomas Q. Callahan, associate vice president for administration and operations services, said one option for locating the facilities would be North Campus, but that would involve a number of challenges, such as avoiding or replacing wetlands, vernal pools, and prime agricultural lands.

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