UI spending millions to beef up 'Wimpe'

URBANA – Known among students as "Wimpe," the University of Illinois' fitness center on the east side of campus offers limited options for recreation.

Campus Recreation Center-East has basketball courts, weights and cardio equipment, such as treadmills and stair-steppers. But it doesn't have locker rooms, a pool or racquetball courts, and it is only a fraction of the size of the main recreation center, the Intramural Physical Education Building or IMPE.

That will change by this time next fall. The UI is breaking ground today on an expansion and renovation project that will triple the size of the east recreation center and beef up its amenities.

The expansion will almost double the space for weights and cardio equipment and add a leisure pool with a slide and sun deck, locker rooms, racquetball courts, a multiactivity court for indoor soccer or floor hockey, and a -mile track.

It is part of a $78 million project to renovate both the east recreation center and IMPE over the next three years to provide more space for the type of activities students are interested in and make both facilities more welcoming for working out or hanging out.

The east recreation center closed this summer for the renovation and will reopen in fall 2004, when work on IMPE is scheduled to begin. In the meantime, campus recreation officials have made some changes to IMPE to accommodate the students who used to exercise at Wimpe.

The east recreation center's strength and conditioning equipment – weight machines and cardio equipment – has been moved to IMPE. Two racquetball courts have been converted to weight rooms, and a lounge area between the outdoor pool and tennis courts now holds treadmills and stationary bikes. The vending machines that were in the lounge have been moved to the lobby.

Even with the warm fall weather, campus recreation officials have seen more activity at IMPE. More students are working out during off-hours, such as midmorning or early afternoon. And there are more pickup basketball games during the noon hour.

"I think people are seeking out those times," said Gary Miller, an associate director for campus recreation. "That's good. It's a more efficient use of the building to have people there throughout the day rather than the peaks and valleys.

"The true test will come as soon as the weather turns bad. Then there will be machines in every corner of the building being used."

Gym 1 at IMPE is also closed for renovations. Two basketball courts are being added, for a total of six, as well as locker rooms. When IMPE closes next year for renovations, Gym 1 will remain open to provide more court space on campus. Strength and conditioning equipment will be moved there as well.

While Gym 1 is closed, officials have adjusted the priorities for use of other spaces.

"We've had to scale back on the intramural sports a little bit, not a lot, so we don't have to take up all the courts," said Jayne DeLuce, an associate director for campus recreation.

She said officials have tried to come up with a mix of scheduled activities, such as intramurals, and open recreation times. Gym 3 now has priority hours for basketball, badminton and volleyball. The racquetball Challenge Courts were eliminated after two courts were converted to weight rooms.

"It's growing pains of what's going to be a great project when it's done," DeLuce said.

Campus recreation has also opened Kenney Gym for use by all faculty and staff, even those without a campus recreation pass. Previously, students and employees had to have a pass to have access to the gym. Kenney has a small weight room, pool and track. Some additional weight equipment from the east recreation center has been moved to Kenney.

When the east recreation center renovations are done, work will begin at IMPE. The project will add strength and conditioning space, a climbing wall, a 1/6-mile track and an auditorium. The facility will have 13 basketball courts and eight multipurpose rooms when it is finished.

The new facilities will not only attract more students, DeLuce said. They will also provide more space for community events.

IMPE is already available on a limited basis for events such as post-prom parties, group meetings or company family nights. The renovation project will provide more space for such activities, including a patio off of Gym 1 that can be used for football tailgate parties.

DeLuce said she expects the building to host alumni receptions and senior groups, and possibly conferences or seminars that are not recreation-related.

The IMPE renovation is tentatively scheduled to be finished in fall 2006.

DeLuce said many students still have questions about the projects and why Gym 1 is closed. Campus recreation is planning informational meetings throughout the year to keep students updated on the projects.

You can reach Jodi Heckel at (217) 351-5216 or via e-mail at jheckel@news-gazette.com.

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