New recreation center gains momentum

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If the movers and shakers have their way, Portland State will open a mammoth new recreation center for students in 2006.

As envisioned by a task force formed to study the proposed project, the building will occupy one full city block between Southwest 12th and 13th Avenues, and Market and Mill Streets.

In the preferred of three proposed alternatives, the facility would contain some retail space on the ground floor, a number of floors above devoted entirely to recreational facilities, topped by five or six floors of student housing.

Many students have long complained about the shortage of recreational facilities and open hours at the Peter Stott Center. As one result, the Student Recreation Center Task Force was formed to study the feasibility of building a new Student Recreation Center. The task force is composed of five students and four professional staff members. The group also sought the input of Jay Kenton, vice president for finance and administration, Mike Irish, director of facilities, Burt Ewart, special projects architect and Michele Crim, PSU sustainability consultant.

With approval of student government, the group hired the architecture firm of Yost, Grube, Hall to undertake a conceptual study.

Christy Harper, student representative on the task force, introduced the concept at an open forum last Wednesday. The bulk of the program was handled by Alex Acetta, student activities adviser and Jamin Aasum, architect with Yost Grube Hall.

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“Two questions we attempted to answer were, what do the students really want in a recreation center and why didn’t we use the Stott Center,” Acetta said. “Sixteen years ago the Stott Center was overcrowded. We did not want to put any more money into the building.”

As to how the construction might be funded, he said, “We could use building fee committee money.”

Aasum explained the details of the various concepts for the new center.

“We started with six concepts,” he said. “We’re now three to four years away to having a building.”

He said the problem was to fit very large recreational spaces into one small Portland block.

The Stott Center was opened in the ’60s, when the university student population was at about 8,000. By 2010, student population is estimated to reach 35,000, straining existing facilities far beyond their capacity.

The Stott Center currently does triple duty, housing athletic functions, instructional uses and student recreation, including club and intramural sports. As a result, students desiring open recreation have found both hours and facilities extremely limited. As the university grows, the limitation would become more constraining.

The new facility would operate separately from the 38-year-old Peter Stott Center.

The architectural firm asked the task force to do a survey of what the students and the campus community would want in a recreation center. A Web-based survey received 816 responses, 60 percent of them from students.

More than 80 percent of respondents of the survey supported the idea of a new center. The survey asked individuals to rate their desires for a new center in order of importance.

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Weight room got the most overall support, followed by circuit room and pool. The other priorities, in order, were indoor jogging and walking track, multi-use court, climbing wall, social space, dance room, basketball courts and short-term childcare.

The task force added other desirable considerations. They included bicycle maintenance and storage facilities, accessibility for students with disabilities, and one controlled access to the building.

The Stott Center would continue to house athletic program activities and academic classes for credit, such as yoga and circuit training.

The new center would operate on a “students first” philosophy, although there could be some event rentals to help defray the costs of operation and financing.

The proposed site for the center is currently occupied by a temporary playground for the Helen Gordon Child Development Center, the Marston House, currently used by the Honors Program and the Systems Science Building, a converted house not being used due to building code conditions.

The playground will close when the Helen Gordon opens its expanded facility this fall. And officials say the Marston House could be relocated elsewhere on campus and the Systems Science Building would be demolished.

The desirability of including a design with housing was emphasized by Kenton.

In a Feb. 28 meeting, he told the task force that the university needs 700 to 900 new beds now and that the projection of need is 1,500 to 1,800 by 2010. He said PSU has a goal of providing housing to 15 percent of the student population.

Yost, Grube, Hall presented three different conceivable concepts for the facility. The task force at this point favors alternative three, the only alternative that includes housing.

However, Harper said, “There will be other surveys along the way to make sure students have opportunities to express their opinions.”

Alternative three provides 127,000 square feet of recreation area, 1,000 square feet of retail space and 130 or more housing units. The gym would have two courts, although there is some discussion of three courts, with the ability to separate the courts for separate events. There could also be two pools: a lap pool and a leisure pool.

Alternative one would provide recreation and retail only but would include slightly more recreation space than alternative three.

Alternative two would leave the Marston House on the site and build around it on two sides. In the current concept, the recreation area would be divided into multi-purpose rooms, a fitness center, a childcare area, a food area, meeting rooms, reception and lounge area, locker rooms, and laundry.

The task force hopes to accommodate every type of recreational activity somewhere, from chess to kayaking, although it admits there may be limitations on some activities having permanent facilities within the building.

Storage for recreational groups also is a question mark. The architect’s estimate of total project costs for alternative three would be $38,450,000, $10 million more than alternative one and $11 million higher than alternative two. Of that, the housing option in alternative three would require almost $8 million.

Robyn Pierce, assistant director of utilities, said the task force received $50,000 for preliminary planning and has spent half. The amount of building-fee money available is unknown and the university is currently engaged in two multi-million-dollar building-fee projects, the reconstruction of the health and counseling center and the renovation of the Helen Gordon Child Care Center.

“We may be considering a new student recreation fee,” Pierce said.

Acetta said this could be $35 to $45 a term, to help fund both the construction and staffing costs.

Housing would be self-supporting. The facility would welcome rental opportunities, Acetta said, particularly in the summer when student population is down. However, this would not interfere with student use.

“It’s always the students first,” Acetta emphasized. “But if we have the opportunity to offset some of the costs, we’ll take it.”

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