Since opening its doors 10 years ago, the Anteater Recreation Center at UC Irvine has been home to anyone in the campus community who aspires to athletic greatness — the lunchtime Michael Jordans, after-hours Arnold Schwarzeneggers (pre-governor version) and late-night Lance Armstrongs —as well as those who simply want to drop a few pounds.
“The ARC is different things to different people,” says Jill Schindele, director of Campus Recreation. “To staff, it’s a wellness program or a place to play basketball during the lunch hour. To faculty, alumni and other members, it’s a convenient place to work out. To students, it’s a sports club where they can play intramural volleyball, rock-climb or join the rugby team.”
Before the ARC opened, Schindele visited fitness centers across the country to gather ideas for UCI’s future sports complex.
“I probably saw 50 facilities while I was on vacation or business trips,” she says. “I took notes on the best. The one at Tulane University was wide open — you could see multiple activities from the lobby. I wanted our center to have that same feeling, where you could walk in the door and see people running and playing and hear basketballs bouncing. I wanted it to be student-friendly.”
Schindele, who still has a shiny blue shovel propped up in her office from the ARC’s 2000 groundbreaking, says the UCI center’s inviting atmosphere is one of its distinctive features.
“It’s not the biggest university recreation center, but this building has a really good feeling,” she says. “The ARC is not intimidating. When you enter the basketball courts, you don’t feel like you’re intruding. You can look through the activity rooms’ windows and see what classes are taking place. It’s all in the open.”
The facility also provides a range of programs and services to suit varied interests and skill levels.
“Before the ARC opened, Campus Recreation shared Crawford Hall with UCI Athletics. We had limited time and space, so we stayed with the tried-and-true programs whenever the athletic teams weren’t using the place,” Schindele says. “Here, we have room to experiment with different activities we haven’t tried before. We can offer something new to the campus and see if it sticks.”
In addition to more mainstream fare like yoga and kung fu, the ARC has classes in Bollywood dance, popping, capoeira, kendo, hoop dancing and Zumba, among others.
To remain a state-of-the-art sports and fitness center, it continues to evolve. In 2008, the complex was enlarged from 89,000 square feet to 115,000 square feet. The addition earned LEED Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council for energy-saving design and construction features.
“We’ve been able to expand without raising the $70-a-quarter fee students originally voted to pay for the ARC,” Schindele says.
“We’re renovating our equipment checkout area and have plans to repair and refurbish the pool deck. Changes are ongoing.”
The 2008 expansion allowed for a second weight training room; two more activity rooms; a wellness center with massage, exercise testing and Pilates reformers; and a demonstration kitchen.
“Students told us they never learned how to cook and were surviving on ramen noodles. So we wanted to offer instruction on healthy nutrition,” Schindele says. “But because of the popularity of TV shows like ‘Top Chef,’ the endeavor has morphed into a recreational cooking program.” Recent classes included “Pizza & Hot Wings” and “Date Night on a Budget.”
There have been high-tech improvements at the ARC too, such as digital display screens showing class schedules and upcoming events and biometric hand scanners that allow members to enter without an ID card.
Students make up 93 percent of ARC users, with the rest — about 1,500 members — being faculty, staff, family, alumni and affiliates.
Campus Recreation has created ARC programs for faculty and staff to exercise body and mind. The first, a pedometer-based walking regimen called Step Up UCI, proved so successful that the department developed Cheer Up UCI (for stress relief), Pump Up UCI (training with dumbbells) and Green Up UCI (on living a “greener” life). Team Up!, another popular service, offers a high-ropes challenge course to staff, students, faculty and community/corporate groups.
For students, there are more than 30 club sports, 50-plus intramural athletic leagues, about 200 sports and fitness classes, and dozens of outdoor trips and special events in everything from racquetball to wrestling.
“We’re trying to serve everybody,” Schindele says. That goes for all the aspiring Karch Kiralys and Maria Sharapovas on campus too.