New $16 million gym takes shape

September 08, 2005, vol. 34, no. 1
By Carol Thorbes

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Students, faculty, staff and nearby residents, who are as conscientious about honing their bodies as their minds, are keenly watching a new workout facility take shape at SFU.

The $16-million, 50,000-square-foot complex is evolving directly behind the existing Chancellor's gym in the Lorne Davies complex. The new facility will house a gymnasium, multi-purpose rooms and a 15,000-square-foot fitness centre - three times the size of the current centre. The original gym complex was built 40 years ago.

“Back in the 1960s there wasn't the current fitness craze, but in 1996 we renovated some offices and a kitchen in the existing complex to accommodate a growing demand for a workout space,” says Jessie Girard, SFU fitness program coordinator. She has been SFU's fitness coordinator since 1996. “Since then we've had 350 people a day using our fitness centre. January is our busiest month, often bringing in 700 registered participants daily.”

Add-ons and renovations created more space, but there was never enough equipment (57 pieces) to satisfy increasing numbers of post-New Year fitness neophytes. “Many would abandon their fitness and health goals in frustration,” says Girard.

A regular fitness centre user, President Michael Stevenson made it one of his personal goals to realize a bigger, better complex. “SFU has a very distinctive legacy in athletics and recreation that we should maintain,” says Stevenson, an early-bird exerciser who has had to do his stretches outside of the fitness centre. “We have failed to keep up the quality and scale of our facilities during the last 20 years of growth, while other universities added significant new infrastructure for athletics and recreation.”

Stevenson, the former associate dean of student services Michael Dinning and director of recreational services and athletics Wilf Wedmann brainstormed a plan to realize the new complex, despite academe's growing needs and budget constraints.

SFU floated a $150-million bond in June 2003, which is being used, in part, to finance the new construction. Proceeds from recreation and athletics, and from SFU's 40th anniversary capital campaign, plus a contribution from the UniverCity development will be used to repay the debt.

Stevenson's vision of SFU's role in the pursuit of a fit society has not stopped growing. Several senior administrators helped Stevenson sell the provincial ministry of small business and economic development on a proposal that has seen SFU receive $20 million toward building a national athletic training centre and stadium.

“The logic behind these further plans is not only to cater to the university's needs, and to the growing residential community on campus. It is also to build on our past co-operation with schools and community-based athletic programs in the region,” says Stevenson. “I think SFU will be recognized as one of the best places in the world to combine top-level athletics and academic study.”

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