New buildings at UH-Downtown to house fitness facilities, classrooms

by Susan K. Williams

Daily Cougar Staff

Downtown Houston is adding two more structures to the skyline, but this time they're ours. The University of Houston-Downtown stands amidst the construction debris of a new Student Life Building and an Academic Student Services Building.

T. Chaney Anderson, UH-D vice president for Administration, said the 30,000-square-foot Student Building, a gift from Houston Endowment Inc., will house two basketball courts, a fitness center and an aerobics center.

The $3.7 million project includes an endowment of $1 million to avoid the types of problems the main campus has experienced with maintenance, said Joe Agosta, UH-D director of Development.

Sam Kelmer, UH-D coordinator of Intramural Sports, said the new Student Building will have a major impact on the downtown campus and will help with the retention of students.

"They go two years here and then transfer," he said. "This will be a tremendous boon for the campus. Sports changes people's lives."

"We had 18 basketball teams this year, and (they) had to go off campus to play," said Kelmer, adding that the teams could play on the courts at the main campus, but were locked in to whatever hours were left over.

"I've been (at UH-D) 19 years and was told the second year we would be getting a new building, and so, 19 years later, we are (finally) going to have one," Kelmer said.

Anderson said the Academic Building, a $22.8 million project funded by tuition revenue bonds, will house four levels of activity. The building will be an extension of the already existing structure on Main Street.

The Tuition Revenue Bonds are called that because the school's tuition goes to the state, and the state returns it, after approval by the Legislature, in the form of approved bonds that the university can then sell.

"If it wasn't for private support, it would be much more difficult to ever get revenue bonds," Agosta said. "The state feels like it's a partnership. It makes it easier to go to the state to ask for money."

The main floor of the Academic Building will contain a 450-seat auditorium, a food service area or cafeteria, and a "flexible space" that can be divided into three different sections.

"The downtown campus has no facility that will seat more than 100 now," said Anderson. The flexible space will be used for such programs and events as Black History Month, orientation or activities by student clubs, he said.

The fourth and fifth floors will be classrooms with only two holding more than 60 students; and the sixth level, Anderson said with great pride, will house the Instructional Technical Center -- an up-to-date electronics classroom with video capabilities for urban teaching and a combination of computer and video accessories.

Two separate construction companies bid and were accepted as contractors for the new structures. Anderson said Williams Development Co. expects completion of the Student Building in September; the Academic Building, being built by Vaughn Construction Co., should be completed by late spring of 1997.

"The cranes are up and we're seeing a lot of activity," Anderson said. "We're greatly overcrowded, and this will add about one-third more space. It will enable us to breathe."

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