Carleton pushes for new athletic facilities

By Christine Boyd

University ready to move forward with or without city, writes Christine Boyd.

Carleton University’s plans to upgrade its sports facilities will provide badly needed training space, but may let the city postpone building a larger multi-use recreation complex, some Ottawa athletes warn.

Ken Parker, head coach of the Ottawa Athletic Club Racing Team, says he applauds the university’s proposals to build a $3.5-million covered sports field by this summer and a $10- to $20-million gymnasium complex by the winter of 2004.

But Parker — who helped organize recent efforts to lobby for a city-owned multi-use sports complex — says he fears the Carleton developments, if approved, will let the city off the hook.

“If Carleton goes ahead and builds the facility, then the city may turn around and say, ‘Look, there is a facility. People can use that,’ ” Parker says. “We will still need more space and time.”

Philip Marsh, the area manager for the Running Room stores, says he shares Parker’s concerns, but hopes so many users will flock to the Carleton facilities that the city will be convinced the demand exists for more.

“It may spur a second facility,” says Marsh, who was also involved in the lobby efforts.

Carleton’s board of governors will vote on the plan to construct the fieldhouse in April. If it goes ahead, a permanent bubble will be built over a 4,500-metre field located just north of the existing athletic complex on campus. Inside, there will be three central fields covered with artificial turf, surrounded by a 200-metre four-lane jogging track.

The university also hopes to construct a second, larger facility with a new cardio/fitness centre and a 2,400-square-metre three-court gymnasium that could seat 2,800 people.

University president Richard Van Loon and the building program committee have already approved and are trying to fast-track the plans.

The cost of the gymnasium complex could vary considerably depending on whether Carleton builds it on its own or partners with the city to construct a larger complex with room for office space, VIP lounges and a high-performance track.

The second model is one of two currently being explored by the city. In February, the health committee received the results of a year-long study that evaluated Ottawa’s need for a major multi-use sports centre. The study proposed two options, a partnership with Carleton or a $25-to-30-million stand-alone facility owned by the city. The city is now developing a business plan for the two options.

The project was initially spurred by the demand for a high-performance indoor 200-metre track. By Parker’s count, the city currently has 800

outdoor sports fields, 40 ice surfaces, 17 indoor swimming pools, 150 community centres and other recreational facilities. But since the Coliseum closed its tracks nearly a decade ago, it has lacked any accessible indoor facilities suitable for running faster than a jog or farther than 150 metres, he says.

The health committee heard testimony from the athletic community that the lack of an accessible indoor track has deterred high-end athletes and coaches from moving to the city.

They were also told that an

indoor facility is needed for

athletes with physical disabilities and members of the general public to train safely in the winter.

“On any given Sunday, you can see 500 runners along the canal,” Marsh says. “I’ve seen a lot of people go over on their ankles over the years.”

The burgeoning popularity of team sports such as soccer,

Ultimate Frisbee and rugby has further boosted the need for more indoor, all-season facilities, the committee heard.

However, even if the city

partners with Carleton to build a larger facility, there are doubts that it could satisfy all community demands.

Drew Love, Carleton’s director of athletics, says when the university first began exploring the idea of a partnership, the city’s focus was to provide high-performance track-and-field facilities.

He says public feedback during the past year has shifted the city’s focus to a facility that could accommodate a wide range of sports — which he says might not be as feasible on campus.“When the needs of the community centered around track and field, we thought, fine, we can accommodate that,” Love says. “But Carleton is not interested in the kind of multi-sport solution that they’re trying to put together.”

He says the planned upgrades are required just to meet the needs of the Carleton community.

The current athletic facilities, nearly 30 years old, include a 50-metre L-shaped indoor pool, a fitness centre/weight room, nine squash courts, five outdoor tennis courts, sports fields, a double gymnasium, a combatives room and a multipurpose room.

But Love says all users – from recreational users to competitive athletes — are constantly struggling for space and time. Carleton has much less physical recreational space available per student than most universities, he says.

The situation is expected to become even more dire next year because of the “double-cohort” effect when two high-school classes enter universities in the fall of 2003.

“Not only can’t we meet current demand, but we can’t meet the future demand,” Love says. “We are really desperate for new facilities.”

The proposed upgrades will triple intramural and recreational usage, double the size of the current cardio facilities, and allow for year-round track training and field sports like soccer and ultimate Frisbee, according to Carleton’s master plan for the developments.

The gymnasium could also be used to host athletic championships, convocations, trade shows, job fairs, concerts and community events, Love says.

Carleton intends to keep half of the new fieldhouse constantly available to the public and to allow track teams and sports groups to book space, Love says. The new gymnasium complex will also be available to the public in various ways, he says.

But Parker doubts Carleton would be able to offer the kind of access the community needs.

“Ideally, we want 24/7 access, which we’re most likely not going to get at Carleton,” Parker says. “The reality is, for a multi-use facility, we’re looking at tens of thousands of users.”

However, both he and Marsh say the university upgrades are a step in the right direction — at a much faster pace than the city seems to be moving.

“Carleton is going ahead, and that’s great,” Parker says. “Runners will be able to use an indoor facility next winter for the first time in 10 years.”

He says that by the time a city facility gets built, most of those who have lobbied will be in no shape to enjoy their success.

“At this rate, we’re looking at a whole new generation who’d be using it.”