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New athletic centre rising on Guelph campus

Steady progress is being made on the new $60 million W. F. Mitchell Athletics Centre on U of G campus.

The outer shell of an athletics colossus is now in place on the University of Guelph campus, and tiling is going in on the floors and walls of the changing room showers inside the building.

There likely won’t be any further need to book a treadmill once the vastly expanded W.F. Mitchell Athletics Centre is completed in late summer.

Conceived back in 2009, championed by students who saw the need for more and better fitness/athletic facilities on campus, the construction of the expansion began last spring, when foundation walls and load-bearing masonry went into place. The steel framework for the addition began going up last summer.

There is now a massive building standing on the site along East Ring Road near Arboretum Road. Frantic construction activity continues.

Sarah Mau, U of G’s assistant director of athletics said the estimated $60 million project is on time, and the planned September 5 grand opening, timed for the influx of 2016-2017 academic year students, remains locked in.

About $40 million through student fees has been collected for the project, with a fundraising campaign continuing for the remaining portion. The U of G Alumni Association donated $400,000.

The centre is named after Bill Mitchell, a star quarterback with the Ontario Agriculture College in the 1930s, and director of physical education for the college before the University of Guelph was established.

“The building is progressing as expected,” Mau said. “We expect to be on time, to be open on Labour Day weekend. That’s our goal.”

The building is for U of G students, and for the entire community, she stressed.

“The students built this building with student fee money, so it’s important that we launch the year on the right foot as students come in,” Mau said.

Work to the existing Mitchell building will soon be underway to link the old with the new. Some facilities and functions of the old building, built in 1957 when the student population was less than half what it is today, will be retained, others moved to the new facility.

Significant renovation of the old building is planned for a later date. It will remain as is, with the exception of its fitness centre, which will be replaced by a much larger space in the new building. The old facility’s squash courts, gyms and other spaces will remain active, but far less crowded.

The Mitchell building has long been a hub of athletic activity on campus, the site for individual and team training, intermural and recreational games, summer camps, and other programs and events for children and youth.

At the height of activity, it has about 53,000 visitors each month. The aging facility is open seven days a week, from early morning to evening. And it is generally always crowded, with queues for equipment and waiting lists for space.

Mau said the university is hopeful it can take possession of the new building in mid-August, to ensure staff training and standard operating procedures are in place well in advance of it opening to the public.

“We basically want to get to know our new home, so we are totally ready to go by Labour Day,” she said.

Mau said the new space will provide greater inclusiveness for students.

“Right now we are programming for 21,000 students in a facility that was built at a time when we had less than 10,000,” she said. “In terms of physical space, this allows us to ensure that all students have access to the building.”

The old space has seven treadmills. Users have to sign up to use one, and can only use it for a limited time.

“It is an environment that is open and much more welcoming than the current building,” Mau added. “The goal is that people will feel much more comfortable entering the building. There is lots of social space built in.”

While opening the doors more inclusively to the student population, the new W.F. Mitchell Athletic Centre will be flung open to the broader community to much greater extent. It is for all.

Big, accessible change rooms are a main feature of the new facility, including one that is described as a ‘universal’ change room that is not gender specific. The entire building will be up to current standards of accessibility. 

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Rob O'Flanagan

About the Author: Rob O'Flanagan

Rob O’Flanagan has been a newspaper reporter, photojournalist and columnist for over twenty years. He has won numerous Ontario Newspaper Awards and a National Newspaper Award.
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