Crowded Johnson Center could expand



By Abigail Shipp |

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With spring break around the corner, it’s no surprise the Johnson Center is crowded with UK students putting the finishing touches on their beach bodies. But the traffic isn’t just seasonal.

The packed population at the gym may be a sign it’s time to expand. Five dormitories boasting 5,000 beds and three dining halls are also in the works to accommodate an expected student population increase.

The university recently announced a $275 million plan to renovate and expand Commonwealth Stadium and the Gatton College of Business and Economics, and to build a science building.

These expansions follow the passage of House Bill 7, signed into law by Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear in late February.

Students are concerned this growth is going to impact their workout time at the JC, which many consider too crowded already.

Surrounded by a swarm of incoming exercisers, dietetics sophomore and JC employee Chloe Sapienza sat behind the front desk.

Sapienza is among many who have resorted to other workout facilities to avoid the crowds.

The smaller, more private gym at her apartment complex makes working out a much more enjoyable experience, she says.

“I would never come (to the JC) at night. Ever. That’s just out of the question,” Sapienza said.

Sapienza said the crowds at the JC not only cause limited access to the machines she wants, but it also makes her uncomfortable to exercise in front of so many people.

“I know people who used to come here, who now go to (places like) Lexington Athletic Club,” said Alyssa Williams, a UK student and longtime JC employee. “It’s just too crowded during the times they want to get their workout in.”

Some students choose to purchase memberships to other gyms because of proximity to off-campus housing, parking availability and, most notably, “no waiting for equipment,” said Cindy Hewitt, Lexington Athletic Club’s membership director.

But UK’s director of Campus Recreation, Ron Lee, is one step ahead of the game.

“We’re aware that, during our prime time (from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m), we don’t have enough space. We were already maxed out when we opened in 2003,” Lee said. “So we’ve made proposals to expand the facilities to meet the needs.”

The proposed expansion of the JC would add about 42,000 square feet to the existing space. At least 20,000 square feet would be for fitness equipment and functional training space.

Two more basketball courts would occupy the remainder, according to Lee.

Expansions of existing facilities costing over $600,000 must go through Capital Projects, and then have to be approved by the Legislature.

“That’s the easy part,” Lee said. “The hard part is the funding. That project is listed at about $13 million or $14 million.”

A project like this could either be funded through university bonds, which require enough money to pay back the annual bond fees, or student tuition could be increased an extra $30 per semester.

Funding would not come from state tax dollars, Lee said.

Another expansion project being considered is to add about 3,000 square feet of flooring in the open space above the weight room for more cardio equipment.

It is still being determined if this endeavor would create enough space to be worth the cost and inconvenience of shutting down the JC over a summer, Lee said.

There is no word on when or if the JC expansion proposal might be approved. Until that time, however, Lee thinks it’s necessary to make working out more accessible for students living on North Campus.

In January 2012, about 10,000 students used the JC for a total of more than 57,000 visits.

During that month, about 69 percent of students who lived in Central or South Campus residence halls, about 39 percent of North Campus students, and about 34 percent of off-campus students used the JC, Lee said.

Campus Recreation hopes to add an 8,300-square-foot workout facility below one of the dorms being built on North Campus.

This gym would likely have several cardio and weight machines, Lee said. No basketball courts, running tracks, rock-climbing walls, nor locker rooms would be built there.

“It won’t be another Johnson Center, but it will be a really nice gym,” Lee said.

If the proposal is approved, the gym would be ready for the fall of 2014. There are ways to avoid gym traffic until further action is taken.

The best time to beat the crowds is “definitely mornings, anywhere from 6 a.m. to noon,” said Katie Halsey, an architecture junior and JC employee.

Mondays through Thursdays are the busiest, with a noticeable drop over the weekend, she said.