PAC may get face lift

James Vaughn

The Physical Activities Center (PAC) has not been given a facelift since it opened its doors in 1979, but that may change if the state legislature authorizes the $18 million in funding the university is asking for.

The money would also fund renovations in the lower level of the Science Center and in the Technology Center, but Stephen Helfrich, director of Facilities, Operations and Planning, said the PAC would require the biggest chunk of the money.

Helfrich said the PAC has not been touched because there have always been other priorities.

“To do a renovation like this is expensive,” Helfrich said. “There were always other buildings that needed it or other facilities that we wanted to build.”

The project has been included on a capital improvement budget request for the past six years.

He said the renovation and, more importantly, the expansion of the PAC, have now become the university’s top priority.

Helfrich said he would like to add more faculty offices, classrooms and laboratories and make improvements to the natatorium and the general appearance of the building.

“The building looks dated,” he said. “It was low-budget back in the late ’70s.”

Helfrich said before they began coming up with ideas for the overall renovation and expansion, the gym was upgraded with new wood floors, bleachers, lighting and a fresh coat of paint.

Therefore, the gym won’t be included in the plans for the project.

He said special events are being held in the PAC now than ever before, which is why appearance, as well as entry capabilities and circulation within the building, are a concern.

A concourse, which will better accommodate large crowds, is something that is being considered. Helfrich said they’ve been discussing concepts and ideas for the PAC, but nothing is official yet.

“If we see a better possibility of the project being approved and funded, then we’ll jump into planning mode,” Helfrich said.

He said he’s not confident USI will receive the funding this year because the economy has not picked up enough. Helfrich said he has also been talking to faculty and staff in the PAC to see what they think needs to be done.

Glenna Bower, associate professor of kinesiology and sports, was a student at USI from 1991 to 1995. She has taught at the university since 1997. She said the only difference she sees between now and then are the gym floors and some paint.

“When I walk into this building, I still feel like it’s the same PAC that we had when I went here years ago,” Bower said.

She said she’s hoping for more space. “Our programs cannot grow without enough space,” Bower said. “That’s pretty much what it comes down to.”

She said the biggest challenge the department is facing right now is being at maximum capacity in the PED 186 classes.

The classroom can fit only 28 students at a time, which is not a lot, considering that the course is a requirement of the core curriculum.

She said the faculty has not been given an opportunity to discuss ideas for the project in at least three years, but there hasn’t been a need to.

“Until they can sit down and tell us they have the money, they probably won’t ask for our contributions to the plans,” Bower said.

Senior Sports Management major Melvyn Little said other than improvements to the weight room, he doesn’t see the need to renovate the PAC.

“I’ve played in 26 games,” Little said. “I’ve been in several other gyms and for us to be a Division II school, we have a fairly nice facility.”

He said they are doing the best they can with what they have and that’s all that should matter.