The University of Iowa campus is no stranger to the construction and renovation of its many athletic facilities, having seen the completion of over $115 million dollars worth of projects over the past ten years. The design and planning of these facilities is no small venture and can take years of preparation, “What’s interesting is a lot of times people think that when they start hearing about a facility, that’s the first point where we have started to work on it, and that’s usually not the case,” explains Director of Athletics at the University of Iowa, Gary Barta.
Barta explains that the plan for any new facility begins far in advance with a master facilities plan, “It tries to project out advanced planning on things that we see on the horizon.”
Projects the Athletics Department at the University of Iowa currently have on their radar include a new men’s and women’s gymnastics practice facility, a new indoor golf practice facility, as well as the replacement of the indoor practice facility, more fondly referred to as “the bubble.”
Much like the other projects that have preceded these future blueprints, many factors were taken into account when decided what is coming next for UI Athletics, “You take into account need, you take into account ability to pay for it, how many student athletes it affects, and how it affects the department,” says Barta in considering which projects are on the agenda.
The most crucial aspect of any project the Athletics Department moves forward with is the ability to fund the project, “It’s impossible to think about our next projects without thinking about how we are going to pay for them,” explains Barta, “athletics is a self sustaining entity, so anything the Athletic Department does, we have to raise or generate all the money for it.”
Senior Associate Director of Athletics, Jane C. Meyer, has served as the overseer and main contact for all facilities projects and operations since her arrival to the University of Iowa in 2001. Meyer sees her involvement in these facility projects as being all about making a difference in the lives of the student athletes and coaches at UI and takes no credit for the impact these programs have on the campus, “I’m simply the conduit to get it done…this is about what our department and the goodness of our donors are doing to benefit our student athletes and coaches.”
Meyer believes in focusing on how these projects can benefit the department as a whole, and sees future ventures as further opportunities for collaboration, expansion, and improved efficiency. Taking the future of “the bubble” into consideration and hopes for its improved design, Meyer states, “In the end we’ll have a much more functional, much more energy efficient facility, and since we pay all our own bills that’s really important.”
The incorporation of more brand-new athletic facilities now has the Athletic Department with a changed approach to the just simply the replacement of aging athletic amenities, “Now what we have to do is make sure that we maintain these facilities and put together a plan so we can make sure they continue to be first class, very functional facilities,” says Meyer.
“I think something that we are really good at here at Iowa is building very functional efficient buildings,” explains Meyer. This functionality has come into play recently with the renovations currently underway at Carver Hawkeye Arena, where the 1,800 sq. ft. athletic weight room is being replaced with an 11,000 sq. ft. strength and conditioning space large enough to accommodate the needs of any team. “The strength and conditioning space that we are building in Carver Hawkeye Arena is going to impact absolutely every team,” boasts Meyer, explaining that this is truly an example of how the department moves forward with projects that will genuinely benefit the student athletes and coaches time here at the University of Iowa.
Of course when most pursuits are multi-million dollar pursuits, not everyone’s needs can be satisfied, but the Athletic Department prides itself on its level of constant communication between its teams to ensure that everyone’s voice is being heard. “I would be surprised if we weren’t aware of the needs that every sport has whether we were able to fulfill them or not, I think we generally know what they are,” explains Barta.
Once projects do get the go ahead for design, sometimes certain cutbacks must be made in the initial design to fit the budget for the project, “Anytime you build a new building, there is a need, and then there are probably desires beyond just straight need,” says Barta who acknowledges that there is a balancing act of sorts between true needs and what can be sacrificed from the project, “at the end of the day you can only build what you can afford.”
Collaboration with University Recreation Services is one way that the Athletic Department has been able to curb the burden of taking on the entire cost of developing new athletic facilities on campus and has benefitted both groups over past years, with the most recent collaboration being the new Campus Recreation and Wellness Center (CRWC).
When the Athletics Department was looking towards creating a new aquatics facility, but were short on funds to build to their full desires, a matchup with Recreation Services turned a potential 9 million dollar pool facility project into the 25 million dollar reality for which both athletic programs and recreational activities enjoy the benefits.
Director of Recreational Services, Harry Ostrander, maintains order over the use of all athletic facilities at the University of Iowa, including dual partnership collaboration buildings like the CRWC, where both athletic and recreation groups have primary use interests.
Ostrander recently sat down at the annual April scheduling meeting, where he works with other administrators to establish priorities for the upcoming year for all athletic, academic, and recreational use of the athletic facilities on campus.
While it has not always been this way, Ostrander says that his job in upholding order and collaboration between the different groups has helped to ensure the university does not waste money on building unnecessary facilities. “At the University of Iowa we’ve always had a very cooperative working relationship with the Intercollegiate Athletic Department and we end up sharing a lot of facilities together so that we’re not duplicating a lot of facilities.”
There is always much competition for use of athletic space between the three primary user groups (athletics, academic physical education, and recreation), but Ostrander says that the system his department put in place 40 years ago for scheduling the space has worked very well at eliminating conflict.
“The centralized scheduling system says this: that ALL facilities are University facilities they’re not athletic facilities, they’re not recreation facilities, they’re not PE facilities, first and foremost, they are university facilities,” explains Ostrander.
Shared use of space and the schedule, which Ostrander enforces has greatly altered the past system, which Ostrander explains, “When I first started, it was a nightmare.” Having the buildings to house your student athletes, both Division 1, club, and intramural is one thing, but without a system to organize the space’s use, disarray is eminent. “If you don’t have a good framework like this to work with, and you’re just shooting from hip and everything, then that’s when all these conflicts occur and feelings get hurt and then you get the issues between the different units,” says Ostrander.
Ostrander recognizes the importance of collaboration at the University of Iowa and how it has helped the groups on campus concerned with athletic space to achieve their individual goals, “We both get bigger and better facilities that we wouldn’t have had individually,” say Ostrander in regards to the CRWC, “by incorporating the needs of both athletics and recreation, we have a better facility for both athletics and for our general students.”
Ultimately, both the Athletic Department and the Recreational Services Department recognize that there are still many projects on the horizon, but it will be continuously important to maintain the constant communication that goes into fair scheduling between existing facilities to ensure that no space is wasted.