Monday, August 12, 2013

University of Winnipeg United Health and RecPlex

United Health and RecPlex
It is kind of a mouthful of a name and almost feels like it was designed by committee. The United Health and RecPlex. One can guess that at some point, it will be renamed just as the Duckworth Centre was. A suggestion: the Axworthy Health and Recreation Hall.

For many decades, the University of Winnipeg was centered on pretty much one fill city block. The only outside buildings off that one block was continuing education. Today, the campus spreads out north, south, east and and west of the main buildings.

The one square block campus more or less changed in 1984 when the Athletic Therapy (later the Duckworth Centre) building was completed and occupied for sports and classes. I attended classes in the year it was complete but back then the building still felt like a foreign body attached to the main building. It didn't help that the new building pretty much faced the loading zone and garbage pick-up of the university.
New structure is a continuation of Duckworth

200 car parkade feature of complex

Over the years more activity of a university nature started to expand across the street. The university daycare and Menno Simons College took up residency in the 1990s and there was more activity there and on the street in front of Duckworth Centre. However, it was not until the Duckworth Centre expansion in 2008 that added a fitness center and cafe that a greater component to more people on the street along Spence was achieved.

Still, the university recognized in the 2000s that Spence Street continued to be a bridge too far with parking, buses and non-university traffic dividing the campus. With assistance from various funding sources, the street was closed in favour of a roundabout on the north side and a bus loop on the south side in 2009.

North side Spence Street roundabout

South side Spence Street bus loop
A Promenade was created for the campus to link east and west components of the university and form a better pedestrian experience for people. Of paramount interest was trying to connect the campus to the science faculty, student daycare, McFeetors Hall residence and large parking lot two streets over between Langside and Furby.

Bus path and walkway looking east to university from Young Street

Walkway leading from west campus/Langside to university
A rudimentary link between east and west campuses and it is widely used. I say rudimentary because it started as a rather un-glamourous sidewalk from Spence to Langside with Furby Place included if you go further.

In short, it is a cut through between houses and apartments on a number of streets.

The refurbishment of the front of the university was complete in 2007 and the walkway to the west campus was done in 2009. The first was done up right, the other is a work in progress.

Although the closure of Spence and the attempt to link the main campus to the west campus was excellent, the university still had land on Spence in front of the Duckworth Centre that was now old and a bit of an eyesore. It was a square block of parking, field and small apartment the older two connected buildings that formerly held the daycare and Menno Simons College.

The square block of land for the new rec place
A municipal and provincial election helped secure a promise for a new fieldhouse rec center that would serve an inner city university and surrounding community.

Construction is well under way and while I had a hard time figuring out the configuration at first, it is plainly a terrific spot for the new building. It is clearly visible under construction now from Portage Avenue.

Looking from Spence Street

Along Spence near Duckworth Centre

The square block gone and under construction
So what does this new $40 million include with this new United Health and RecPlex include? Well, it will connect the new fieldhouse to the Duckworth Centre and the recently completed fitness center. In 2008, a $3.5 million expansion of Duckworth added 6000 square feet for student work out area, coffee shop and expanded athletic therapy clinic. All of Duckworth will now be connected straight into the new fieldhouse.

I have talked about the new rec center but was is in it? Well, by the specs, it is supposed to a three story, 189,000 square foot addition to the Duckworth center connected by an pedestrian overpass.

Upon completion, the field house will look like a part of Duckworth
The most noteworthy feature about the field house is how open it is.

Open field house
The field house can accommodate soccer, football, ultimate and baseball.

A regulation 60 metre rubberized sprint track.

Retractable batting cages,

Meeting rooms including one for the community and soundproofed for powwows and drumming.

There are food and beverage kiosks.

The entire building will be energy efficient.

Of particular note is the addition of 190 underground parking spaces.

There were some surface parking present in the block that will comprise the field house but this will a very big gain in overall parking. Unbeknownst to many people, there is a similar sized parkade under the Duckworth Centre.

The University of Winnipeg has been consistently been in the top 10 for most expensive parking in Canada. In some universities, according to Maclean's, parking problems have resulted in professors quitting.

I guess it would be easy for some social activists to say too bad, so sad but they should remember that Tommy Douglas began his activism in Canada over a $65 parking ticket. If the father of Canada's social democratic movement once said he was prepared to vault the barricades for good parking, you better believe it is an issue.

The university has acquired a few more surface parking lots as it has expanded but it has lost spots as well on the street as well as where they are building.

The underground parkade at the field house at the very least will be appreciated by any faculty that the university tries to recruit in the next years. As far as students go, any solution involving cars will be an expensive option.

The new United Health and RecPlex is scheduled to be complete in summer of 2014.

So much of what is happening at the University of Winnipeg is like moving chess pieces. It is hard to see how things will unfold until they are done. However, it seems clear the present and the future of the university look brighter now than they did in the a large part of the 1980 s and 1990s.

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