Construction underway on RIC Rec Center

Demolition is the first order of business for the KBE Building Corporation that is currently renovating RIC’s Recreation Center. Crews have been working steadily since groundbreaking on April 19 in order to complete the project by February 2012.

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When RIC President Nancy Carriuolo took a tour of the work site, she entered a fenced-in area of mud, rubble, and towering excavation equipment. The concrete stairway and ramp was gone, the west side of the building was the dumping site for dirt and rock, and the second story of the exterior wall had been demolished, exposing a network of iron scaffolding.

In hard hat, Carriuolo stood looking out from the second-floor, listening as the project manager described how beautiful and functional the new center would be.

“I was particularly impressed with his description of the new weight-training room on the second floor, where you will be able to look out over the campus,” said Carriuolo. “From where I was standing, I could see the view as far as Sapinsley Hall. It will be a wonderful place to exercise.”

Estimated to cost about $13 million, renovations will bring the building located on the east campus up to fire code and will include a newer, more modern design as well as new equipment and technology. The west end of the Rec Center still had the décor of the 50s, said Don Tencher, director of Intercollegiate Athletics and Intramurals, and was structurally in need of repair.

Back in the 50s, RIC’s east campus was the site of the state’s facility for children who had become wards of the state (it was called the O’Rourke Children’s Center, 1948-1979), formerly the Rhode Island State Home and School for Children, 1884-1948).

East campus office buildings were once “cottages” for the resident children, the Forman Center was the living quarters of the superintendent and the Recreation Center was the childrens’ gymnasium, with a stage on the second level and a locker room on the lower level. The children also swam during the summer in the outdoor pool.

In 1979 the O’Rourke center closed its doors and the Department of Children, Youth and Family Services (DCYF) occupied the buildings. Eventually DCYF moved out, and RIC began renovating the buildings.

In 1989 the RIC Recreation Center was built. The facility is actually three buildings joined together to form one building.

The first building is the original O’Rourke Children’s Center gymnasium (the yellow brick building in the photo above).

The second building (the centerpiece of the building at left) was built in 1989. It is a 30,000-square-foot field house, which includes an indoor track and interchangeable courts for volleyball, basketball and tennis.

The third building, also erected in 1989 (at right), enclosed the outdoor pool. Together, the three buildings made up the Recreation Center.

For over 20 years this facility has been the site for intramural sports, aerobics, individualized fitness programs, cardiovascular/weight training, club sports, saunas and swimming.

In 2009 upgrades were made to the 10,000-square-foot swimming pool. New lights and a new water heating and dehumidification system were installed.

This year’s renovations are more ambitious than any since the 1989 project. Tencher, who oversees the Recreation Center and the Murray Center athletic facility, said the following renovations will be made to the Rec Center:

1) The cardiovascular/weight-training area will extend to two stories;

2) Support areas of the field house will be enlarged by 1,000 square feet;

3) The locker rooms will be enhanced;

4) New equipment and technology will be installed, including a new student space area equipped with wifi and televisions;

5) A terrace will be built on the south side of the building;

6) An event entrance with ticket booth will be made;

7) The main entrance will be enhanced so that it is more welcoming;

8) Rec program and management personnel will be moved to the front of the facility to better service constituents, especially students;

9) A storage area will be built for equipment, such as folding chairs and podiums;

10) New underground water pipes will be installed that will improve the water quality and pressure not only for the Recreation Center but for all the buildings on the East Campus; and

11) A generator will be installed to increase the safety of the facility in the event of an emergency.

“This building will be the cornerstone of the east campus,” said Tencher. “It will have a clock tower that can be seen from all directions.” Even as far as Sapinsley Hall, situated on the main campus.

This has been one of Carriuolo’s goals, to tie the east campus with the main campus. Each year a new phase of that goal is being implemented. Thus far RIC has installed blue-light emergency phones along walkways that extend from one end of the campus to the other; there’s been increased security and new signage, and a new café to bring more of the campus community to the east side.

Carriuolo also hopes to entice members of the off-campus community to the Recreation Center, including those who wish to sponsor events. The new glass façade of the weight-training room will present an open and inviting face to the public.

During renovation, the Recreation Center will remain open to users. Entrance is by way of the parking lot at the southeast side of the building.