UofL to begin construction of $37.5 million recreation center
On-campus facility set to open in fall 2013
By John R. Karman III / Staff Writer
The University of Louisville is moving forward with plans to build a $37.5 million, 128,000 square-foot student recreation center on the west side of its Belknap Campus.
Work on the project is tentatively set to begin in late summer or early fall with a completion date set for the start of the 2013 academic year, according to university officials.
The facility has long been on UofL’s wish list. It addresses “a huge need” for U of L, according to university president James Ramsey. It will be built off Fourth Street, south of Cardinal Boulevard, in an area with new housing, dining facilities and planned retail space.
The recreation center “is where students hang out,” Ramsey said. “We need first-class space” to attract and retain the best students and keep them engaged on campus.
Gifts, student fee to pay for facility
U of L received permission from the Kentucky General Assembly in 2010 to sell $37.5 million in tax-exempt bonds to finance construction of the project.
The bonds will be paid off primarily through private donations to U of L’s “Charting Our Course” capital campaign. Also a $98-per-semester recreation fee will be required of all new students, beginning this fall, to help fund the project, according to Michael Mardis, the university’s dean of students.
Naming-rights opportunities are available for donors through the capital campaign.
The U of L board of trustees approved the financing plan for the project at a July 13 meeting.
More students in intramural, club sports
The new facility will ease a shortage of recreation space on Belknap Campus, Mardis said, and allow U of L to better serve thousands of students who participate in intramural and club sports, take aerobic and fitness classes or want to lift weights or run on their own.
In the past three years, the university’s club sport offerings have increased to 23 programs from eight, he said. Enrollment in fitness classes has grown by more than 100 percent during that time.
University officials see that as progress, Mardis said.
“We look at holistic development of the student, and part of it is the physical. We want them to be able to develop healthy lifestyles.”
Center to offer variety of sports options
U of L’s existing on-campus recreation complex, the Swain Student Activities Center, was built in 1990 and has 50,000 square feet for fitness and exercise, according to Mardis. The center, which will continue to operate, receives an estimated 350,000 visits each year.
The planned west side recreation center will contain a gymnasium with six courts for basketball, volleyball and other sports; a multisport court for indoor soccer and floor hockey; racquetball courts; a jogging track; and aerobics and wellness studios.
It also will have exercise and weight equipment, a fitness laboratory, classrooms and meeting space, a video game area, food service and locker facilities.
An outdoor plaza will have recreation space, a lighted turf field for rugby, flag football and soccer games and berms for spectator to watch play.
Bids to be sought soon for contractor
The center will be the first U of L building to be heated and cooled with geothermal energy and is expected to earn a gold certification through the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, program.
A general contractor has not been selected to build the as-yet unnamed facility, Mardis said. The bid process is expected to begin soon.
Architectural design work is being handled by Lexington, Ky. Based Omni Architects and the St. Louis office of Boston based Cannon Design.
More housing driving demand for recreation space
Mardis said the demand for more recreation space on campus is being driven by several factors, including an increase of on and near-campus housing.
U of L has added 2,000 beds on the west side of campus in recent years, he said, bringing the on-campus student population to 5,100.
Private development near the U of L campus also is adding housing and other amenities.
For example, the $57 million Cardinal Towne development under way on the site of the former Masterson’s Food and Drink Inc. site at South Third Street and Cardinal Boulevard will have beds for 539 U of L students.
The project, led by Valparasio, Ind.-based Investment Property Advisor LLC, also is bringing 29,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space to the area.
The west of Belknap Camps is becoming “a neighborhood where (students) can study, they can be close to campus, they can engage with their fellow students,” Mardis said. “It’s much more of a livable location.
“This (recreation center) is another piece,” he added. “It’s a big piece, an important piece.”
Students make pitch to education council
Mardis called the push for a new recreation center a “student-lead” initiative. He noted that the U of L Student Government Association played a pivotal role in the process.
SGA official made a recommendation June 10 to the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education to approve the student recreation fee, according to Sherron Jackson, the council’s associate vice president for budget planning and policy.
The council, which sets tuition rates for the state’ public universities, approved the fee.
Alumni to have access
SGA president Kurtis Frizzell said there has been no “backlash” from current students about the new fee because it will not apply to them, only to new students.
Students who began paying the fee prior to completion of the facility will receive six free months of access for every semester they pay without being able to use the center, Mardis said. They must begin using their access immediately following graduation.
Alumni also will be able to purchase memberships to the recreation center.
Frizzell, a senior political science major from Calhoun, Ky. said student strongly supported the new center because U of L’s current facilities don’t measure up to those at other schools in the region.
They began calling for a new center, he said, in large part because upgrading existing venues “wasn’t good enough for what we needed.”