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A Fieldhouse For The Future

On a poster being sold through the University of Alberta Bookstore to promote the University's 75th Anniversary there is a picture of how the campus was supposed to look.

The poster features a watercolor painting done in the early part of this century to show how the new University of Alberta would look when construction was complete. The campus it depicts is a very traditional and sedate one of uniform red brick construction.

That is not how the University turned out, of course. The three old residence halls — Athabasca, Assiniboia, and Pembina — the Arts Building, and the original portion of the old Medical Sciences (now Dentistry/ Pharmacy) Building were built very much according to plan, but then changes crept in, and the campus of today embraces widely varying architecture.

Some like the effect, calling it dynamic. Others decry the lack of uniformity.

This particular debate will no doubt be enlivened by the new fieldhouse being constructed on campus. It will add yet another look to the campus architecture, for it is being clad in porcelain enameled steel of a rather bright yellow color.

Controversy, though, is not new to the fieldhouse project. A great deal of it surrounded the choice of location before the eventual site across from the Jubilee Auditorium, sandwiched between 87 Avenue and the west wing of the existing Physical Education and Recreation Complex, which it adjoins, was chosen. And there were those who were critical of the project itself, viewing the fieldhouse as an expensive facility being built for the 1983 World University Games and of little subsequent value.

Ross Macnab, vice president (University) of the 1983 Games and a member of the fieldhouse planning committee, is clearly not among those. He is excited about the wide variety of uses to which the fieldhouse can be put after the Games, and he points out that the idea of a fieldhouse for the campus did not originate from considerations associated with the Games.

More than 20 years ago, Dr. Maury Van Vleit, at that time the Physical Education Dean, identified the need for a fieldhouse facility. That need was underlined by a University planning committee in 1975 and, more recently, a report on the status of facilities to support the Physical Education and Recreation Faculty, which had been commissioned by the University's Board of Governors, placed a fieldhouse high on the list of immediate deficiencies.

The success of the joint University-City bid for the 1983 Universiade provided a welcome opportunity to obtain funding for such a facility. Money for the fieldhouse, the cost of which is to be about $23 million, is being provided by a grant from Alberta Advanced Education and Manpower.

Touring the facility now being built by Ellis-Don Ltd. under the directions of the project consultants Ragan, Bell, McManus, it is easy to appreciate Dr. Macnab's enthusiasm. Looking down from the permanent fixed seating area gives a new perspective on the size of the building: it is much bigger than it appears from the street.

For the 1983 Games, the fieldhouse will seat slightly more than 10,000 persons for basketball competition. After the Games, however, almost half of those seats will be removed, leaving about 2,900 permanent fixed seats and, below them, another 2,300 or so telescoping bleacher seats. The telescoping seats will be retracted when not in use to make available a 106 by 62 metre floor space for recreational use.

The dominant feature of the fieldhouse floor will be a six-lane, 200-metre track with runoff lanes for sprint events. It should prove popular with runners and joggers in inclement weather. But they won't have the facility to themselves. In the infield of the track, isolated by removable nylon net curtains, will be a recreational area which can be used in its entirety for sports such as team handball or indoor field hockey. Or similar curtains can be used to divide the infield into four separate court areas suitable for recreational basketball, volleyball or tennis.

In the area covered by the telescoping bleachers when extended, four courts will be marked for badminton. Also outside the track area will be practice areas for long and high jumping and for pole vaulting. With the entire floor area cleared, the fieldhouse will accommodate a soccer game.

The fieldhouse is also designed for future high level competition in a number of sports. For track and field meets, the field events will be moved to the infield for better spectator viewing. For basketball, the portable wooden floor which will be used for the Universiade will be employed. For gymnastic competition, all the men's and women's events can be run simultaneously in the infield of the track.

And Dr. Macnab points out that the fieldhouse usage need not be limited to athletics. He mentions cultural and ethnic dance festivals, marching band competitions, and — especially because of the close proximity to the Lister Hall Residence Complex — the great potential for conventions or trade shows. Or how about an in person registration that didn't involve running to all corners of campus? Each department could be allotted space in the fieldhouse and linked to its records by phone lines.

Dr. Macnab stresses that the fieldhouse will be a benefit not only to the University community but to the wider community as well. It will undoubtedly see a great deal of outside use for athletic events — such as high school track meets — and other types of activities.

Locating the fieldhouse immediately adjacent to the existing Physical Education and Recreation Complex meant some minor sacrifices in size, but it had some very definite advantages, allowing it to become an integral part of the complex. The fieldhouse locker rooms, for instance, will unite with the existing locker facilities to allow the reorganization of the locker space to consolidate both the men's and women's locker areas with both having direct access to both pools.

And the portion of the fieldhouse containing administrative, office, and classroom space — the part commonly referred to as 'the tower', although it isn't quite as high as the rest of the fieldhouse — is linked directly to the east wing of the existing complex by a short overhead walkway. That walkway enters the east wing through the wall of what used to be the Dean's office, and he has had to go looking for new accommodation.

Labor disputes involving the building trades this past summer have slowed construction somewhat, but Dr. Macnab is confident that the project will be completed close to the April 1, 1983 target date. Everything seems to be proceeding relatively smoothly, he says.

In fact, some of the yellow external panels are now up and, so far, there hasn't been much of a stir.

Published Autumn 1982.

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