UA is moving forward with a plan to expand Bear Down Gym by combining donations and university funds with an increase in student fees that was approved by the Arizona Board of Regents earlier this semester.
Kasey Urquidez, vice president for enrollment management and student affairs advancement and dean of undergraduate admissions, said a three-story building will be added to the back, where there is currently an old swimming pool. The building will house different student and academic success services.
“It’s such an exciting thing because we have the services available now, but they're kind of more spread out,” Urquidez said. “We’re figuring out how to make sure we have things more closely aligned that need to be more closely aligned because it’s going to serve the student better.”
Bear Down Gym was repurposed when Old Main was being renovated, because more space for offices and Think Tank was needed.
“We needed to find some space as things were getting reshuffled on campus,” Urquidez said. “Bear Down Gym, which had always been a gym, got changed into cubical city. It was never intended to stay that way.”
The expansion is one part of a larger project, involving the UA Main Library and Science-Engineering Libraries. A hub will be created to provide greater student support and an atmosphere of success, according to Urquidez.
“We really, really want to make sure we’re providing that atmosphere for students,” Urquidez said. “As we were thinking about that, the librarians were also really thinking about bringing their libraries up to the 21st century and beyond, making them more usable for students.”
The project is being called the Bear Down Success District for now, though that is not the official name, Urquidez said. The Main Library and Science-Engineering Libraries will be joined underground, with a connection to Bear Down Gym.
“That underground piece will be an awesome place for students to get food, and there will be some retail, there will be a place to recharge your phones, your bodies,” Urquidez said. “You’ll be able to come up the stairs and be in the gym. There could be a yoga class going on, there could be some meditation. Then you walk through to the back, to the south part of the building, and be in the new three-story building.”
Holden Sanders, an audiology grad student, is also an academic skills tutor for Think Tank and works in Bear Down Gym. He still remembers when Bear Down Gym was used as a gym because he took five karate belt tests in it. Sanders said he isn’t bothered by the plans to change the use of the building again.
“I’m used to changes on campus because I’ve been here a while and grew up in Tucson,” Sanders said. “The move could be good because I’ve noticed during my drop-in hours we can sometimes hear the spinning classes in the basement, which is kind of weird.”
Sanders said he thinks the proposed new space will be better.
“It depends how they do it, but the new building could be confusing for students,” Sanders said. “Then again, having Think Tank in a gym is a little confusing, too.”
Urquidez said plans have not yet been finalized, as they were waiting to make sure the fee increases would pass. Now that the regents approved the fees for the two-year project, planning will begin. The Health and Recreation fee, originally $300 when established in 2010-11, will now be $425.
“Now we’re ready to go,” Urquidez said. “We have a lot of meetings coming up. We’re going to be working with the students to make sure we’re doing everything the right way and also start to do more formal kinds of planning with architects and campus planners.”
Student focus groups are currently being developed, according to Urquidez, and there are other discussions and surveys underway to make sure the plans meet the needs of the student population.
Although the start and end dates of the expansion are not yet set, Urquidez said students will still be able to access all the services provided in Bear Down Gym during construction.
“We don’t want to have any break in services,” Urquidez said. “We don’t want to have a time where students can’t get academic support. We’ll make sure there’s no break in service no matter what.”
The intent of the project as a whole, according to Urquidez, is to improve student success based on the connections between wellness, success and academic support, in a way students can easily find and utilize.
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