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Exercise trends trigger Rec Gym remodeling

A project that will transform the original part of the Recreational Gymnasium on the West Lafayette Campus also will significantly upgrade intercollegiate, educational and recreational swimming and diving. Plans now being fine-tuned will involve:

Completion of the project, in the planning stage for nearly four years, is dependent on success of raising $15 million in private funding. Total cost of the project is expected to exceed $23 million, with the remainder to be paid through bonding authority to be requested from the Indiana General Assembly.

One word gives you an idea of how trends have caught up with and passed by the Recreational Gymnasium on the West Lafayette Campus. The word, first used a decade after the Recreational Gymnasium opened: aerobics.

Coined in 1967 by author and physician Kenneth Cooper in a book by the same name, the term refers to prolonged exercise that increases oxygen intake to benefit the circulatory and respiratory systems. In the fitness vernacular of the 1980s and 1990s, aerobics has come to mean exercise routines, generally done in groups, sometimes incorporating dance or equipment such as "slides" or "steps."

"If the designers of the Co-Rec had envisioned fitness trends and the aerobics movement, they would have built a significantly different facility," says Carol Stickel, director of the Division of Recreational Sports.

The Recreational Gymnasium, known as the Co-Rec to the thousands of students, faculty, staff and alumni who work out, play or compete there each day, was built in the mid-1950s. It was built mostly with men in mind, for games men played.

"Recreational sports in the 1950s mirrored varsity sports, especially team sports," says Ross Watson, senior associate director of recreational sports.

In the fall of 1957, when the Co-Rec opened, enrollment on the West Lafayette Campus was about 13,000. Men outnumbered women five to one. The design of the Co-Rec reflected that ratio. Besides basketball and volleyball courts,other offerings included fencing, boxing, riflery, archery, squash and swimming.

Except for swimming, most of the activities were geared toward men.

Four decades later, enrollment is more than 35,000, with men still outnumbering women. But more female students were enrolled at West Lafayette in fall 1997 - 15,300 - than the total in 1957.

At the Co-Rec, women's use of the facility has grown tremendously.

"We're close to 50-50 male-to-female in terms of utilization of the Co-Rec," Watson says.

Much of the growth in women's use of the Co-Rec can be attributed to the fitness movement. More than 50 group exercise sessions are held at the Co-Rec each week throughout the academic year, and more than 80 percent of participants are women.

And although Co-Rec staff have continually increased exercise sessions for women, they have done so in a facility ill-suited for those new programs. For example, the Main Gym is used for most aerobics sessions because it is the only space large enough. But the Main Gym also is used for basketball.

"It's less than ideal to have a basketball game under way on one side of the gym and rhythmic music and aerobics on the other side," Watson says. "We're doing it that way because we're trying to meet the demand."

Besides basketball and aerobics participants getting in one another's way, the wood-on-concrete floors of the Co-Rec aren't the best surface for aerobics. The new aerobics studio planned for the Co-Rec will have a cushioned floor designed for that use.

As women's use of the Co-Rec has increased, so has interest in fitness generally, especially use of personal training equipment. Watson, who started work at the Co-Rec in 1968, has watched the trend from the beginning.

In 1968, the Co-Rec had fewer than 10 pieces of exercise equipment.

"Now we have more than 200 pieces of equipment in rooms on several different floors," Watson says.

More than half of those machines are in rooms on the basement level. The increased use of that area, like putting basketball and aerobics in the same gym, is less than ideal.

"That area was designed for use by a fraction of the number of people who now use it, and the air-handling equipment hasn't been upgraded in 40 years," Stickel says.

Since 1980, fitness participation has increased from 10,800 individual visits, or participations, a year to more than 71,000 a year - in organized sessions alone. Hundreds more visits a year are made by individuals who work out by themselves. Overall, the Co-Rec has about 1 million visits each year.

Trends change, and the planned renovation will transform the 1950s-vintage parts of the Co-Rec.

"Renovating the oldest sections of the Recreational Gymnasium will significantly enhance the recreational opportunities for many generations of Purdue students and others who use the Co-Rec," Stickel says.

Besides the structural and mechanical changes in the original part of the building, all of the oldest part of the Co-Rec will get a new coat of paint and other cosmetic improvements.

In 1980-81, additions to the north and southeast of the Co-Rec added two gymnasiums and 16 racquetball courts. Those areas will not be affected by the planned remodeling.

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,

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