UI soon to open $69 million recreation center

by Gigi Wood

UNIVERSITY OF IOWA – A new venue for good times downtown is about to open.

The University of Iowa’s new $69 million Campus Recreation and Wellness Center at the corner of Burlington and Madison streets is set to open Aug. 2. Some of the more impressive features include the 5-meter racing pool and diving well, 52-foot-high rock climbing wall and a zero-depth leisure pool with a lazy river and bouldering wall.

The facility is 215,000 square feet and includes rooms for yoga and other classes, a 1/9-mile running and walking track, courts for basketball, volleyball and other sports. There is 20,000 square feet of fitness space that will house free weights, cardio and other equipment, including 75 treadmills. A café will serve smoothies and other health foods. A rooftop patio will likely host events.

The center will provide the UI with its first major recreation and athletic center east of the Iowa River, just blocks from Iowa City’s downtown and one block south of the school’s main library. Anyone can use the center, including the public, UI students and staff.

“The general public will not be excluded; that is a big rumor going around the county,” said Wayne Fett, senior associate director of UI Recreational Services.

Public memberships are about $30 a month, and when the center opens Aug. 2, the fee will be waived for two weeks. Students will pay $109 per semester as part of their tuition and fees.

The low cost and new facility will add competition to the fitness club scene in Johnson County, said Tracy Davis, general manager of Core Fitness, which has locations in Iowa City and North Liberty. On one hand, it is unfair other clubs have to compete against a facility that does not pay property or sales tax, but on the other hand, competition is good for the area, Mr. Davis said.

“I’m concerned that since the fee is already part of students’ tuition bills, that they will look at (being a member of Core) as having to pay for two gym memberships,” he said.

Core offers many classes and has features that the UI facility does not offer, like free parking and potentially better customer service, he said.

“I think people will realize they are happier at Core and don’t want to work out with 30,000 students and see their professors,” Mr. Davis said. “That said, it’s a beautiful facility and more competition is a great thing.”

The UI Campus Recreation and Wellness Center will not replace the Field House at the west end of Burlington Street. The facility has about 3,000 daily users and Mr. Fett is unsure how that will change when the new center opens. Officials expect about the same number of users at the new center.

“Students are not used to this yet. They are going to be in for a good surprise,” Mr. Fett said. “It’s such a neat building.”

The UI is in the process of hiring students to work as personal trainers, lifeguards and desk staff. It will likely employ 600 students, making it the largest student employer on campus, he said. In addition, a number of directors and other professional-level positions are being filled.

Most days, the center will open at 6 a.m. and close at midnight or 1 a.m. It will be open seven days a week.


It makes sense that the new facility would focus on swimming. When the Field House was built in 1927, its pool was the largest and one of the fastest in the world. Although swimming may not receive as much of the spotlight as other sports, it has always been noteworthy. After all, the butterfly stroke was invented at the UI during the 1930s. There is a plaque commemorating the achievement at the new center.

The recreation center’s pool area, called the natatorium, includes the UI’s swim and diving teams’ competition pools, diving well and adjacent leisure pool, sauna and steam room.

The competitive pool is the largest in the state with 16 lanes, providing enough room for the men’s and women’s swim teams to practice together, something that is not possible at the Field House where they practice now. The new facility will allow the UI to host national swim and diving tournaments.

Lengthwise, the pool is 5 meters to conform to college and national standards. Width-wise, the pool converts into two 25-yard pools to meet high school length standards in yards, so the facility can host high school tournaments as well. There is seating for 2,200 people.

Overhead is a 9-by-26-foot scoreboard with 16 millimeter dot matrix readouts, which is about the same level of quality that can be found at Kinnick Stadium. A second scoreboard hangs above the leisure pool in the adjoining room.

A separate pool, known as the diving well, includes a sparger, which blows air bubbles from the bottom of the pool to soften divers’ impacts, especially if a mistake is made. A Tigerhawk logo was included on the pool floor as well, to give divers a sense of the depth of the pool. There are 1, 3, 5, 7.5 and 10 meter diving platforms.

“When we take recruits through here they are very impressed and understandably so,” Mr. Fett said. “This is something you would see at a power school and they are hoping that they can move that way. They want to win the Big 10.”

The leisure pool has a zero-point entry, includes a few play features for small children, but most of the features are designed to appeal to adults, such as the lazy river and vortex.

Climbing wall

The climbing wall is 52 feet high and 48 feet long with a 30-foot-long bouldering wall. There are belay ledges at 20 feet and 45 feet large enough to hold three people standing. There are easy and tough routes up the wall; its difficulty is about a 5.11.

“The routes vary from very easy to whippin’ hard,” Mr. Fett said.

By comparison, the Field House’s climbing wall, which is being dismantled, could be rated as high as a 5.16, the highest number on the 5-point scale.

“If you took all the holds out you could make it nearly impossible,” he said.

There is a separate fee schedule for climbing; its $40 for a belay card and after that its $10 monthly to climb.

Locker rooms

The center offers countless locker bays accessible in locker rooms and in hallways. There are Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant lockers, as well. There are seven locker rooms in the building. Designers created three types of locker rooms: standard, family and club. Standard rooms include metal lockers with showers and restrooms. Family rooms are basically over-sized restrooms, where families can lock the door for privacy with room for several children to change clothes and clean up. The club locker rooms are entered using a hand reader, so users don’t have to carry key cards with them. Nicer amenities are available, such as wooden paneled Z-shaped lockers that with room for hanging pants or jackets. There are also TV areas in the club rooms.

The difference in price for the standard and club locker rooms is $10 versus $15 a month, including towels.

Parking is limited. There are about 100 spaces reserved for the public at a lot at Madison and Court streets; the lot will be gated July 1. The center is also located about a block from the Old Capitol Town Center parking ramp.

Parking for students was not a major concern to facility planners.

“We found that when students go to work out, they often leave their dorm or apartment and run to the gym,” Mr. Fett said.

Meanwhile, UI staff and construction crews work to ready the center for its opening. They are expecting $33.7 million in equipment and fixtures to arrive after July 2, but as the pallets arrive early, they are scrambling to find the storage space.