Students giddy to follow through on their New Year’s resolutions were met with disappointment at the start of the spring semester when they returned to find the Campus Recreation and Wellness Center still draped in white construction tarps.
The Fitness Zone, located on the second level of the Rec Center, has been closed since mid-November. Now confined entirely to the first floor, students have begun to complain about cramped conditions, access to equipment and a perceived failure on behalf of the University to communicate with the student body.
“I didn’t expect for the second story to be closed this semester,” said junior theater major Sarah Dugain. “I feel that the construction they are doing has made it a lot harder for students to actually have access to the gym.”
The second floor’s Fitness Zone was the heart of the Rec Center where members could use all the machines, weights and equipment needed for a full-body workout. Now UH, with a total enrollment of over 46,000 students as of fall 2023, is trying to accommodate its entire population of gym-goers with significantly reduced space.
Since the second level has been closed the University opened the Red Zone — a fitness space with squat racks, dumbbells, kettlebells, battle ropes and other exercise equipment. However, space is still noticeably limited compared to the second floor’s Fitness Zone.
The University has also decided to move some equipment from upstairs to Court One of the main gym — a temporary measure until construction is completed, according to executive director for UH Campus Recreation Kim Clark.
Many students, however, feel the stop-gap facilities are a far cry from those offered previously.
“You don’t have anything for back workouts. There are only bench presses for chest and nothing for shoulders or legs. So you don’t really have anything to work with,” said business management sophomore Diego Gonzalez.
Gonzalez said this is his first semester at UH, and he looked forward to using the Rec and no longer having to rely on a gym membership. But now he is unsure about his options and said his routine has been thrown off.
“It kind of messed up my routine,” Gonzalez said. “I’m used to five days a week at the gym. And then I get here and you can’t really get a full workout.”
Most of Gonzalez’s friends have abandoned the Rec for alternative gyms, which he is also considering, he said.
The lack of space and equipment has made many students aside from Gonzalez question their loyalty to the Rec. Some students have contemplated switching gyms, others are paying for a third-party membership on top of the fees they pay in their tuition for the Rec Center.
Since the second floor has closed, many students have rushed to social media to express their opinions. There were nearly a dozen posts in the University of Houston subreddit within the first two weeks of the semester mentioning the Rec with a majority of them wondering if the gym is even open and fully functioning.
Among the many problems students are facing with the UH Rec Center this spring, transparency has been on top of the list. Students are confused about when the project is expected to be completed or why they are making renovations in the first place.
“I just want them to be more clear about communicating with students because this is already the second or third time they said it’s gonna open and then it hasn’t,” said accounting sophomore Delia Grantham.
Although the UH Homepage says $112, the UH Rec and Wellness Center is a $118 mandatory fee students pay during the fall and spring semesters. Students can find this total by looking at Mandatory fees in their Student Financials Collection under payment history.
Students frustrated with paying fees related to the Rec Center wish there was a way to opt out — similar to the Cougar Access Textbook Program.
“There should be an option to opt-out for the people that only used the second floor and who feel like they’re being restricted when they go to the Rec,” Grantham said.
In April 2023, the Rec began a three-phase construction project to replace the floors on each level due to damage from previous moisture issues in the facility, Clark said.
“The existing rubber floor was damaged and worn down in the strength section and other high-traffic areas, and the subfloor was also damaged in some sections causing it to be uneven,” Clark said.
Construction on the second level is part of this floor replacement project and was initially restricted for use the week of Thanksgiving, and UH expected the job to be finished by the spring semester. However, that was not the case.
“Unfortunately, the project team found deeper issues once the existing floor was removed and additional repairs were needed before the new floor could be installed,” Clark said. “We were unable to reopen the Fitness Zone by the first week of spring classes, but it is expected to be open in a few weeks.”
The complete three-phase project is estimated to be finished by May 2024. But students can expect the second-floor Fitness Zone to be finished in early February, Clark said.
Students can view more details about the facility renovations and a more detailed timeline of construction here.
“We recognize the inconvenience to students and appreciate their understanding as we work to make these necessary improvements that will ensure we have a safe and well-maintained space that will support the fitness and overall well-being of our students for years to come,”
Because of setbacks in various projects over the years, students are wary to trust the administration when it comes to timelines.
“If it’s not done by next month, then they’re honestly just bulls*****g,” Gonzalez said.