Colleges provide `big sandboxes' to students

Arts, sports facilities become selling points

April 22, 2001|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,SUN STAFF

On any given afternoon, Richard Satterlee can look out over his kingdom and take in a sea of spinning exercise bikes and bouncing basketballs; of pumping stair climbers and belayed rock climbers; of energetic aerobic dancers and pumped-up weightlifters.

Satterlee is director of recreational sports at Loyola College and presides over the North Charles Street school's new Fitness and Aquatic Center, a 115,000-square- foot, $24 million building that opened last fall, one of many such new buildings on area campuses dedicated not to higher learning but to improved lifestyle.

"We have had over 1,000 visits in a day here," Satterlee says. "And that's with an undergraduate population of 3,200."

The center - at once immense and light, its walls of windows giving it an airy, open feel - was built on the site of the old Boumi Temple. Some might say that Loyola has constructed a new temple there, dedicated not only to the fitness of the school's students but also to the growing trend of colleges spending their capital budgets to keep students happy, if not pampered.

A couple of miles south on North Charles, the Johns Hopkins University, which is building a biomedical engineering building, dedicates a new $17 million student arts center this month. Later this year, Hopkins will open a $14.6 million recreation center, designed by Sasaki Associates, the same architects who created Loyola's edifice.

Morgan State University is building a $40 million arts center, and Towson University has planned a complete renovation of its arts facility. The University of Maryland, College Park - which boasts a huge recreation center - is opening a new arts center. But, unlike Hopkins, those schools offer a range of art curricula.

Other lifestyle investments are being made on the state's campuses. St. Mary's College and Salisbury State University have new versions of the more traditional student center with dining and other food facilities as well as bookstores, meeting spaces and media rooms. The University of Maryland, Baltimore County has such a center under construction. And before it opened its fitness center, Loyola renovated its student center and put a new cafeteria in one of its high-rise dormitories.

Students also have come to expect amenities that many families might consider luxuries, such as high-speed Internet access in dormitory rooms as well as cable TV.

Part of the reasoning behind these buildings and services is competition - the schools are trying to attract the best possible student body. The last stop of prospective student tours at Loyola is the new recreation center.

"At least in part, the decision to build these facilities is based on recruitment value," says Samuel McNair, director of undergraduate admissions at Johns Hopkins.

Though the Hopkins recreation facility - which will be connected to the school's current athletic center - will be half the size of Loyola's, it will have a full complement of the expected amenities.

Those include racquetball courts; an indoor track; a fitness center with strength and cardiovascular equipment; rooms for aerobics classes; and the current piece de resistance of such places - a climbing wall, a molded plastic cliff that simulates a slab of bumpy rock for those practicing this technical skill.

"The old gym was built when Hopkins had 1,600 students and they were all male," says Mary Ellen Porter of the student affairs office. "Now we have 4,000 undergraduates and 1,500 graduate students, and there is a growing emphasis on recreational sport."

College officials say these recreation centers are for more than exercise. They have become hangouts, a place to socialize, to see and be seen - in Lycra, no less.

Satterlee points out that Loyola has put a few cardiovascular exercise machines in the corner of its running track for those - perhaps faculty and staff - who want a workout away from the preening youth who crowd the room filled with such equipment in the late afternoon and early evening.

Satterlee says he purposely tries to keep the spaces in the center as unscheduled as possible. Only the pool - an eight-lane, 25-yard, state-of-the-art model with a separate deep end for diving and a shallow end for other uses - is used by Loyola's intercollegiate teams. But club and intramural teams keep up a constant demand for space.

"If we have games scheduled on two of the three [basketball] courts, I try to keep the other one free for pickup games," Satterlee says. "We want this to be a place where students can drop in at any time and use it."

He also says that a part of the center used as offices for outdoor clubs attracts students who otherwise might never visit school sports facilities.

"These tend to be individual pursuits that are not competitive," Satterlee says. "But now they are getting involved through this building."

The kayakers, for example, can practice maneuvers in the pool, and the climbers can do their spidery dance up the plastic cliff.

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