Students replace 'bear' of a rec center

By Danielle C. Malka

Special to the Arizona Daily Wildcat

In 1966, it was obvious the University of Arizona was in need of a new recreational facility. A satirical article in the Arizona Daily Wildcat that year targeted the primitive state of affairs at the Bear Down Gymnasium with photos depicting the "air conditioning" system, cramped locker rooms, poor lighting and inadequate storage and training facilities.

Twenty years later, when nothing had been done about the many problems, students took matters into their own hands and began creating what is now known as the Student Recreation Center, said Grant Smith, director of the Department of Campus Recreation.

"In 1987, when the department was created, there were 32,000 students and the only recreation facility was Bear Down, which had four basketball courts and a 4,000-square-foot weight room," Smith said.

"Plus it all had to be shared with the athletics and exercise sports science departments," he said.

Smith said students would start lining up at 2 p.m. to get into the weight room by 3:30 p.m.

"The basement of Bear Down was literally full of students because it was the only place to work out on campus," Smith said.

There was also a small facility at the Park Student Center, but it wasn't enough, he said.

"The university had cast a blind eye on the regular student body," he said. "All the money was going into the athletic department, so students took it into their own hands and developed and passed a referendum to charge themselves for the construction of a new facility."

Between 1985 and 1987, students formed groups to find out what the student body wanted from the facility, Smith said. Then they had to find a site for the building and make sure the whole thing was feasible.

Searching for architects, designing the building, enduring the long university bidding process and the building of the center filled the next few years. The Student Recreation Center finally opened on the first day of school in 1990, Smith said.

"Now students take the recreation center for granted," said Jennie Spink, a creative writing junior. "We pay our $25 each semester with our tuition and can use it whenever we want. All we need is our ID.

"It's definitely worth it to pay the money," Spink said. "I don't mind it because it's a good opportunity. I already have the means to go since I paid for it and I don't have to deal with a membership or anything like that.

"It becomes sort of a community since it's mostly students and student-run. You get to know the


people working out and working there and it gives you motivation to keep going," she said.

Students will compensate over the next 20 years for the $15.2 million bond that was taken out to build the Student Recreation Center, Smith said.

"But it's really more like $30 million with interest and everything," he said.

Other contributors to the center include television personality Geraldo Rivera, a UA graduate who donated $20,000; and the UA Parents'& Association, which donated $200,000, Smith said.

The university agreed to pay one-third of the cost, $5 million, but has yet to do so, he said.

Apparently the money and hard work have paid off because Smith said the facility has won two national awards for design and quality.

"From my knowledge, we're at least one of the top five in the country," he said.

About 4,000 people enter the Student Recreation Center gates each day, about 1 million a year, Smith said.

He said there are about 150 employees at the center, most of whom are students.

"This gives students who need jobs the ability to work on campus and also serves as an educational opportunity for students to learn things like administrative

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