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Saturday, December 20, 2014, 11:32 p.m.
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Expanded UCA fitness center to open in November

By Tammy Keith

This article was published August 21, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.

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The University of Central Arkansas Health, Physical Education and Recreation Center is undergoing a $15.5 million renovation and expansion, which is scheduled to be done Nov. 11. Students and faculty have been given access to a Conway fitness center until the HPER facility reopens. Rain delayed the opening, said Dave Dennis, director of campus recreation. The project was student-driven, officials said, by members of the Student Government Association.

CONWAY — The rainy summer has pushed the opening of the expanded University of Central Arkansas fitness center from October to Nov. 11, but the director of campus recreation said it will be worth the wait.

The Health Physical Education and Recreation Center at UCA, referred to as the HPER, is getting a 42,000-square-foot addition, bringing it to 110,000 square feet, said Dave Dennis, director of campus recreation.

Dennis said the two amenities he is most excited about are the pool and the outdoor recreation room.

“The new pool will be a six-lane, 25-yard pool with a 1-meter diving board,” he said.

UCA has a pool in the Farris Center, but students have complained that it is inadequate and outdated.

Dennis agreed that a new pool is “way overdue.” He said the HPER center, built in 2000, will offer a basic swimming class, something it hasn’t had in 15 to 20 years. It won’t be a class for credit, but just for fun and learning purposes, he said.

“Our pool is going to be new and exciting, but the other service we’re going to offer that I think students are really going to be excited about — we’re going to have a 1,900-square-foot room that will house our recreational pursuits,” he said. “We didn’t have outdoor-recreational pursuits. I think the students will be really excited about that.

“We’re going to have canoes, kayaks, tents, sleeping bags, cooking items, just anything you need to go and pursue any outdoor recreation,” he said. Bicycles will be available to rent, too.

“If they don’t have a tent, they can come over and rent one. Or, if they don’t have a kayak, they can come over and rent a kayak for the weekend,” Dennis said.

The sleeping bags and tents will be cleaned when they are returned, he said.

“If you bring it back broken, you’re going to pay for it,” he said.

The $15.5 million project is being paid for with an increase in the HPER fee. Students will pay $9.12 per credit hour to go toward the facility.

The idea came from the Student Government Association in 2010, and students researched the concept and presented it to Dennis.

A group of students gathered on campus Monday had mixed feelings about the expansion.

“It cuts into my workout time,” said Jonathan Jones, 19, of Little Rock.

Students and faculty may use 10 Fitness on Harkrider Street in Conway until the HPER is open.

“What if you don’t have a car?” asked Zach Rice, 20, of Poplar Bluff, Missouri.

Larry Jackson, 19, of Jacksonville agreed.

“I’m excited about it, you know, it’s something new, … but I don’t like that we have to drive across town.”

When the HPER was open, he could work out until closing time on campus, he said.

James Alec McLean III of Sherwood said he’s excited about the new facility, “but raising our tuition, I thought that was a little bit of overkill.”

Rice said he understands that UCA is getting bigger, “but if they’re going to renovate things, I feel like it should be done while we’re not here. It’s kind of aggravating because it’s not done.”

Olivia Crabtree, 19, of Little Rock said she didn’t realize there would be an outdoor-recreation facility to rent items.

“That’s so cool,” she said.

“I’m excited about the pool, even though my apartment has a pool,” she said. Crabtree said she might use the one on campus, and she has heard that the pool in the Farris Center “is gross.”

Jones said he thinks UCA should have renovated the pool in the Farris Center, “rather than spend the extra money I have to pay.”

Dennis said campus recreation has a “three-pronged” philosophy.

“Since we’re a higher-education campus, … we want to offer this to them while they’re a student so they can become healthy or stay healthy; we want to teach them about how to become healthy or stay healthy; and the third thing is, we want them to learn a lifetime activity they’ll carry on after college to keep them healthy their entire lives,” Dennis said.

“We’re going to emphasize our programming. I want to have a lot of programming for students. We’re going to have some trips, maybe a class about how to maintain your bike, or how to put up your tent, or safety features for kayaks,” Dennis said.

In addition, there will be three, glass-backed racquetball courts, which the HPER doesn’t have now. The Farris Center has two, but one is being used for storage, Dennis said.

“We’re going from one group-exercise studio to three group-exercise studios. Something the students really need on campus is more space to practice their dance, or whatever they want to practice,” Dennis said.

Two studios will be for scheduled classes and to reserve; the other will be for spinning classes.

The weight room will be moved from the second floor to the first but has been expanded from approximately 5,500 square feet to 10,000 square feet, he said. The cardiovascular area with stay downstairs, “but a wall will be knocked out so it will be more open,” Dennis said. “We will have some cardio upstairs, possibly around the track.”

The walking track will be surrounded by windows to give it an open feel, too.

The second floor will also be the home of what Dennis said is being called “the game area. As of right now, we’re going to have pool tables, table tennis and air hockey and some tables up there for card games,” he said.

Three lounge areas will be available, at the entrance and a couple on the second floor.

“We really do hope that the students come and hang out. If they don’t want to get sweaty, they can come over and enjoy the facilities. It’s going to be beautiful,” Dennis said.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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