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Archive for Saturday, August 16, 2003

Recreation center braces for onrush of students

August 16, 2003

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In less than a month, Kansas University sophomore Tim Epperson will get a chance to climb the rock, lift the weights, check out the canoes and run on the elevated indoor track he helped pay for inside KU's new $17 million student recreation center.

But don't expect him to sprint over from his nearby Phi Delta Theta house.

"I'll be checking it out, but not at first," Epperson said. "Everybody's going to be using it. It's really going to be a big cluster of people. There'll be a ton of people there."

As Epperson waits on the sidelines, thousands of KU students are expected to climb, lift, borrow and run each day at the new center, set to open Sept. 15 on 6.5 acres just south of Watkins Student Heath Center. A formal dedication is scheduled for Sept. 25.

The building, at 1740 Watkins Center Drive, will feature 100,000 square feet of recreational space paid for by students and dedicated for student use.

Admission will be free for students, plus alumni who have been paying into the center's construction fund for the past four years. Allowing faculty, staff or the general public to use the center won't be considered until after students have had their run of the place for a while.

"We want students to use it," said Mary Chappell, KU's director of recreation services. "It's theirs. We want them to be proud of it."

The project's concept won approval in April 1999, when more than 70 percent of students voting said they were willing to have their student fees increased to pay for a student-owned center. Since then, students have been paying $62 a semester in recreation fees, up from $13, to support the $17 million in bonds endorsed by the Kansas Legislature.

Among the three-story center's features:

  • A suspended, indoor track. Seven laps around the track will equal a mile.
  • Four gymnasiums.
  • A 42-foot-tall rock climbing wall, plus "bouldering wall" for practice.
  • Dedicated rooms for martial arts and aerobics, each equipped with wood floors.
  • Two racquetball courts, with a movable glass wall between them to accommodate squash.
  • An "outdoor pursuits" area, where students can rent canoes, backpacks, tents and other equipment for use away from the center.
  • A two-level, 15,000-square-foot fitness area packed with cardio equipment, free weights and resistance machines.
  • Office spaces for KU's 30 sports clubs.
  • A concessions area featuring bagels, fruits, juices, smoothies and other healthy foods and tasty treats.

The new center means recreation-seeking students finally can bid farewell to nearby Robinson Center, whose gymnasiums and other features share space with academic pursuits.

While Robinson is dominated until 5 p.m. daily by academic needs, the new center will run 18 hours a day during the week -- from 6 a.m. to midnight -- and from 10 a.m. to midnight on weekends.

"Now you can go anytime you want," Chappell said.

The extended offerings are expected to welcome a rush of students. While Robinson typically welcomes about 1,000 students for recreation each day, Chappell said, use should climb at the new place.

"Baylor (University) just opened one that's very similar. They're running 3,000 students a day through there, and they only have 7,000 students," she said. "We can only imagine how many we'll have."

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