State Gym renovations ‘worth the wait’


Original design plans show what the addition to State Gym will look like upon its completion next spring. Mike Giles, director of Recreation Services, said the $46.2 million project at State Gym will make up for delays that have resulted from the construction process.

Jake Lovett

Mike Giles is always thinking about State Gym.

If the plans that line the walls of his office aren’t indication enough, maybe his inside-out knowledge of the facility is.

He knows nearly every inch of the 159,000-square-foot facility, even the ones that aren’t finished yet.

In 2008, the students of Iowa State University — many of whom have since graduated or moved on — voted to approve the $52.8 million upgrades to State Gym and Beyer Hall at a cost of $20 per student per semester for the two years of construction and $107 per student per semester for 23 years following the facility’s opening.

Now, more than three years after its initial approval, students are anxious, awaiting the project’s completion.

The director of Recreation Services has had questions thrown his way for more than a month now about the status of Iowa State’s new fitness hub, and he’s always ready with an answer. He understands disappointment about the facility not being open, and he’s more ready than anyone to show off what will soon be the crown jewel of his department.

A hold on opening

In August, Recreation Services announced the State Gym facility — new or old — would not be ready for student use after running out of supplies to enclose the building.

Contractors were unable to obtain the necessary materials to finish the enclosure: panels made of zinc — many of which can be seen on the outside of the addition to the 100-year-old building. Now, with the open date for the facility pushed back, Giles and his staff are looking for an alternative — likely aluminum, he said — to cover the remaining holes, indicated by the bright green or blue sheets visible from outside the construction site.

“Without the enclosure, the envelope being fully closed, it is delaying some of the ability to finish some of the interior aspects,” Giles said.

Without an enclosed structure, heating and cooling, painting and flooring — including three brand-new, full-size basketball courts that will be made to complement the two redone courts left in the old State Gym, probably one of Giles’ favorite features about the project — cannot be finished. The hardwood courts can’t be laid in an environment that isn’t climate-controlled. Neither can other synthetic flooring or painting that still needs to be done in the interior. And the climate can’t be controlled without a completely sealed building.

Warren Madden, ISU vice president for business and finance, said Tuesday that any changes to the outdoor enclosure should keep the project within its initial $52.8 million budget, a budget that included both the State Gym renovations and renovations completed at Lied Recreation Athletic Center. A total of $46.2 million was budgeted for the State Gym project alone.

“The current estimate is that change [to the paneling] is in the budget,” Madden said.

He said if change in materials is significant and does push the project over its budget, the contractor may be forced to take on the extra cost due to the delays.

In the meantime, construction crews are working on aspects of the project that can be finished — plumbing, the new pool facility and interior work in the enclosed original half. However, the facility won’t be opened until sometime during the spring semester, a timeline that Giles has not yet finalized.

“Timing in that change doesn’t make this quicker,” Madden said. “Our plan is to be occupying the building by spring.”

New versus old

While the original half of the recreation facility is enclosed, climate-controlled and nearly completed, the fact that arrangements could be made to open that half sooner than the addition never crossed Giles’ mind.

“When you come in, we don’t want you seeing unfinished product or caution tape and ‘do not enter’ signs,” Giles said. “It was in our best interest to not open until it’s 100 percent.”

Giles said State Gym — constructed in 1911 — is on schedule and presently crews are putting on the finishing touches to the renovation.

However, even though there is a clear divide between the new and old — “clear” being a 30-foot-tall rolling fire door — State Gym won’t be ready for opening until the addition is, much for the same reason.

“Just because one aspect of the building is close to being done doesn’t allow just opening this little part or that little part,” Giles said. “It’s still all one, unique building.”

With State Gym closed, many intramural activities have shifted from their traditional home on the west side of campus to Lied, putting more strain on the campus’ east side.

“Lied was built with the idea that there will be an open rec facility,” said Garry Greenlee, associate director of facilities for Rec Services. “When State Gym opens, more intramurals will move back out to that facility, getting Lied more open again.”

Giles: Armchair quarterback

Giles inherited the project in the summer of 2009 when he arrived fresh off a job at Louisiana State University.

A self-proclaimed “facilities guy,” Giles was excited to have a chance to work on the State Gym project, a project that started in 2009, and said his staff has taken to the project and run with it in his time on campus.

Both facilities, new and old, have unique challenges in construction, Giles said, particularly in renovating one building and constructing an entirely new facility simultaneously.

“Our staff and the direction that they’ve taken with this building is right on track,” Giles said. “Unforeseen circumstances, unforeseen delays, a lot of that stuff that comes on is just the nature of building a building.”

The trouble in construction, while unfortunately causing delays, hasn’t caused Giles any lost sleep. He said decisions made at the time plans were made — late 2008 and early 2009 — were made in the best interest of the project and can’t be questioned two years into the construction in an entirely different environment.

“As we progressively move on, you can always look and see, ‘Well, this would’ve been great,'” he said. “Saying what I would do differently just doesn’t matter because what we have is a state-of-the-art, fully functioning facility.”

Tom Hill, vice president of student affairs who brought Giles onto his staff in 2009, said Giles has done well in taking over the project and making the transition smooth.

“He’s done a great job,” Hill said. “He’s come in during a period of change and has handled it well.”

‘A visually stunning facility’

Giles said the opening of the State Gym facility is worth the wait forced on the ISU community.

One reason, he said, is the appearance and flow of the building, inside and out.

Outside, the brick facade used on the addition mirrors the original brick from State Gym, but the contrast between old and new is evident by the massive windows and modern architecture. Inside, though, State Gym was all but gutted, except the basketball court area, preserved almost as it was before renovation began.

The courts themselves, five total to be used for basketball, volleyball and badminton, will be unique as well. Painted with the school’s cardinal and gold colors, each will feature a different rendition of Cy at center court. In the old State Gym, the two versions of Cy used from 1965-1995 will don the two courts, while the three newest renditions — including the newest announced earlier this year — of the ISU mascot will grace the floors.

The long, wide corridors — currently unfinished, as is most of the flooring, particularly in the addition — will run straight from the north side of the building to the south, same from the east to the west.

Along most corridors — including the new elevated walkway between Beyer Hall and the State Gym addition — there will be fitness equipment and other amenities.

“Everything flows together,” Giles said. “It will be a visually stunning facility.”

Overcrowding, overpopulation and disappointment

More than 125 new fitness machines will be installed between the two buildings, a welcome thought from the patrons of the overcrowded Lied on the opposite side of campus.

In the fall of 2010, enrollment was a record 28,682, pushing campus residence halls and facilities to near maximum capacity. The crop of new students on campus in August may well push the enrollment to more than 29,000 or greater, putting further strain on existing facilities.

“Lied was overcrowded at 28,000 students. Lied was probably overcrowded at 26,000 students,” Giles said about the campus’ primary recreation center, constructed in 1990. “I think that was part of the reason why the ISU students at the time voted to expand the recreational opportunities here on campus. Lied is crowded, there’s no doubt about it.”

At 220,000 square feet, Lied’s fact sheet provided by Recreation Services says the facility can serve 1,400 participants each day. When completed, the State Gym site will be an estimated 159,000 square feet, and its far-west location should draw students that might normally trek across campus to use Lied’s facilities.

Greenlee, who oversees operations of all recreation facilities, said crowding at the 21-year-old facility has been more extreme since State Gym’s closing two years ago.

“Lied’s popular; there’s lots to do,” he said. “It’s the beginning of the year, everybody has free time and wants to see what’s available. We’re counting on State Gym to be open in January to alleviate the crowds.”

However, despite overcrowding at Lied and delays in opening the new facility, Giles said his department has received few complaints, if any, related to the State Gym construction. One reason, he said, was the credit of $89.95 to be applied for all full-time students, reimbursing the fee originally charged for use of the facility.

“I think students are disappointed, don’t get me wrong. I think we’re all disappointed,” Giles said. “I think it’s more disappointment in the fact that it’s not open versus kind of a complaint.”

Hill said he had heard complaints, but not from students. Instead, he said, it was the faculty and staff working around him that had expressed the most frustration with the facility not opening on time.

“You don’t like to hear it, but at the same time you’re happy to hear it,” Hill said. “It shows they’re paying attention and aware of the need. It’s a good news, bad news kind of thing.”

Greenlee, who has been with the department for more than 30 years, said once State Gym reopens and activities return to their original homes, students should have more flexibility, particularly inside Lied. But, he agreed that there have been few complaints from students about inconvenience or crowding.

“Students will always have room to drop in and find something to do inside Lied,” Greenlee said. “Students are adept, pretty flexible. They know State Gym is coming and they’re expecting big things.”

The other project

Not quite a mile south of the State Gym site lies the Southwest Athletic Complex, the home to the ISU varsity softball program and former home to the ISU baseball program. Another mile east of Southwest is the site of the Cyclone Sports Complex, a still-unconstructed facility that will become the new home for ISU soccer, softball and track and field upon its expected completion in the fall of 2012.

Once the Cyclone Sports Complex opens, Giles’ department will assume control of both the Southwest complex and the ISU soccer complex.

Chris Jorgensen, senior associate athletic director for facilities, planning and management, said the Cyclone Sports Complex construction is still on schedule, although it is still in very early phases.

Large mounds of dirt visible on the old Towers intramural fields will be used to prepare the site for construction of the new fields and their associated structures. Jorgensen said site work is scheduled to be completed during the fall, and structures will start going up next winter.

Site work for the fields was set to begin this week.

“We want to get seed down as soon as possible to allow for two growing cycles before we compete at the facility,” Jorgensen said.

Once the new complex is complete, Giles’ department will begin programming the old facilities to house club sports and intramural championships, among other events.

The control switch should be completed by fall of 2012, Giles said, but may be gradual, based on when varsity programs finish their need of their current facilities.

“I don’t know that all of a sudden there’s some fancy switch that gets switched and all of a sudden we’re responsible,” Giles said. “We feel confident that starting in the fall of 2012, we will pretty much be programming the Southwest Complex to its full capabilities.”

Overall growth

By the fall of 2012, Giles expects State Gym to be up and running and to have renovated the Southwest Athletic Complex for recreational use as well.

By then, Recreation Services space will have nearly doubled, a near necessity for the increased student body.

“It’s very important because we’re pushing wellness and wellness is very important to us,” Hill said. “We have an increased number of students, and we need to provide for their recreation needs.”

ISU clubs like soccer, rugby and the newest, fast-pitch softball, will have NCAA Division I-caliber facilities to compete in, opening up opportunities for event hosting and increased participation.

Other clubs, such as boxing and triathlon, will be housed in the renovated lower levels of State Gym.

“It will bring up their level of what they’ll be able to do,” Giles said of the sites’ renovations. “It will bring up that level of competition and play for our clubs.”

There’s multi-purpose space built into the old State Gym that can house clubs and other student organizations, and storage space below for the kayaking and sailing clubs, among others.

Upstairs, there’s space for fitness and wellness programs, specifically designed rooms for pilates classes and one-on-one sessions with personal trainers, space that is not currently available at Lied or inside Beyer Hall.

Giles is excited about the projects and what they mean for his program — Recreation Services, under his direction since the summer of 2010 — and will talk about them as long as someone will listen to him. And he, like so many in the ISU community, is disappointed the new facility isn’t ready for use.

“I get so excited talking about this facility,” Giles said standing on the renovated basketball courts at old State Gym on Thursday. “It’s unfortunate you don’t have access yet, but I think it will be well worth the wait.”