MERCED — University of California at Merced students won't have to take a bus ride to work out at the gym in fall of 2006.
Campus planners expect to have the $11.2 million Joseph Edward Gallo Recreation and Wellness Center ready for students in the campus' second year.
Construction crews already have started working on the site's foundation.
UC Merced plans to form basketball teams to join Division III of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, so the campus needed a court large enough to meet the league's requirements.
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"We're planning for the future, not for our present," said Jane Lawrence, vice chancellor for student affairs.
Though the campus might have a gym fit for big-time college hoops next fall, Lawrence said joining the NCAA is still several years away for UC Merced. She said the school needs more students to fill up rosters before it starts creating game schedules.
"We have to see what (the students) want," Lawrence said. "I don't think we want to dictate to the students what kind of teams we should have."
At one point, rising construction costs forced planners to remove the bleacher seats and reduce the court size from the gym's design. Lawrence said it was community members who stepped in and launched a team effort to raise the extra money needed.
"So it can become a true treasure of our campus community," she said. "This will be a state-of-the-art facility, and it will have the latest and the best equipment."
With an initial gift of $2 million from the Joseph Gallo family and $8million borrowed from the University of California's office of the president, the university had the money it needed.
However, the original plans for the gym were revised to make space for the NCAA-sized basketball court in the sports facility.
An additional $1.4 million is needed to fund the blueprint expansions, and the campus is close to reaching its goal with $1.1 million raised so far, said Mike Campbell, associate vice chancellor for university relations.
Fund raising in the last phase
The Gymnasium Expansion Campaign started in fall of 2004 with a $500,000 donation from Greg and Cathie Hostetler for the basketball court that will carry their name.
The final phase of the fundraising drive — the Bleacher Seat Campaign — will make a full-court press this fall to put the donations over the top.
"We hope to have all the community donations in by the end of this year," Campbell said.
People who give will have their names on a plaque next to the bleachers overlooking the NCAA-regulation basketball court. The bleacher contributions start at $1,000.
"We're almost there," said Ralph Temple, a Merced attorney and member of the fund-raising committee. "The kids need this and the community needs this."
The gym will feature three basketball courts with seats for 560 spectators, and will be the home of the intramural sports program, including volleyball, badminton and indoor soccer.
The cardio and weight room will be equipped with free weights, treadmills, exercise bikes and stair machines. Group exercise classes like yoga and aerobics will take place in the multipurpose room.
The second floor of the gym will be the home of the Student Health Center, which will give students a place to go for treatment of injuries and illnesses, appointments with a health educator, prescription and over-the-counter medications, immunizations, and laboratory testing.
Along with athletic activities, the gym will hold concerts, graduation ceremonies and other large campus-community gatherings.
Turning to off-campus option
The campus had to start its debut school year without a gym, so an arrangement was made with Millennium Sports Club to offer the students a discounted membership.
"We made an arrangement with them because it was the closest gym to the campus," said Valery Oehler, UC Merced director of residence and student life. "It was also the only gym that had swimming pools, tennis courts and racquetball courts."
Cat Tracks, the student shuttle service, makes stops at the North Merced gym as part of its regular route.
But the blue and gold small buses won't be dropping off students at the club next fall. Oehler said UC Merced students will have their own campus gym by then.
"Our gymnasium will far surpass what Millennium is offering," Oehler said, except for swimming pools, racquetball courts and tennis courts, which UC Merced won't have for a few years, she said.
But Millennium proved to be a safety net for campus recreation planners who needed a place for students to work out and participate in intramural sports, said David Dunham, UC Merced director of recreation.
About 400 students purchased memberships at the Millennium Sports Club at $35 per semester, he said. But a gym located a short walk from the campus dorms is what students wanted.
"I think it will become almost a hub of activity on campus," Dunham said. "It's right in the middle of where they go."
Freshman Carolina Valero hopes indoor soccer kicks off first in the new gym. She was the captain of her high school varsity soccer team.
"Now it means we won't have to worry about transportation and being so far away from the gym," Valero said. "We can stop by and work out after classes or in between classes."