What has stood for two years as a shadowy construction site tucked away behind the JDUC is now a magnificent new exercise pavilion for the Queen’s community. The much-anticipated Phase I of the Queen’s Centre is finally open.
I begin my first journey through the Athletics and Recreation Centre (ARC) on Monday, the day before its soft opening. Once I’m inside the Earl St. entrance, an army of people are working away to tidy and finish setting it up. With all the construction workers milling about and wet paint signs erected, it still doesn’t seem quite accessible, but maybe that’s just because I can’t quite believe they actually finished the place before I graduated. Mike LeBlanc, manager of marketing, communication and events for Athletics and Recreation meets me for my tour.
The first thing to notice, which is apparent all throughout the building, is the incredibly high ceilings and abundance of open space. This sharply contrasts the grim, ergonomic structure of the PEC.
To the left of the entrance, there’s a long corridor which is connected to a customer service desk, merchandise store and alumni lounge. At the end of the hall is a student lounge where there are T.V.s and couches so people can relax and rev themselves up. You have to walk past the first of several workout rooms before getting to it, though.
Beside the main gym is the Stretching Zone I, where students swipe their cards to gain access to the building. The swiping machines look more sophisticated than airport equipment, with slick chrome and neon green lights. Inside the stretching room, there are spinning bikes and other cardio equipment.
The design of the ARC is ingenious in that all the rooms look into one another and most of them have large windows, which create the prevalent feeling of openness. LeBlanc said this will immensely improve workouts.
“Being able to work out in natural light is a big plus,” he said.
In addition to two larger gendered locker rooms, the ARC has a couple of gender non-specific change rooms on the same floor, where there are showers, benches and coat hooks. There are 1,800 lockers in each of the locker rooms, about twice the number in the PEC, LeBlanc said. There’s also greater security in the new locker rooms, since there are more half-lockers that allow you to see the room over top of them.
“It’s a lot cleaner and bigger than the old ones,” LeBlanc said. “Compared to what we had in the PEC, it’s a big upgrade.”
On the lower floor there are eight squash courts and two racquetball courts, along with a huge weight room with brand new equipment. LeBlanc said this will probably be used by varsity athletes mainly because of the equipment’s intensity. The main concourse by the entrance looks onto this area from the top.
The coolest room LeBlanc takes me through is the Athletic Therapy Clinic, which will mainly be used by athletes undergoing physical therapy and training, as well as student trainers. The room is like a spa, with 14 massage tables. There are separate rooms leading out from the massage area with steel bathtubs and other physiotherapy equipment.
Vicky Wiltshire, assistant therapist, said although there was a therapy room at the PEC, it pales in comparison to the new one.
“It was kind of an afterthought of the ’70s. It was not a very functional room, let’s put it that way,” she said.
The pool in the ARC is worthy of hosting the Olympics. In addition to being a lot bigger, with 14 lanes and four diving boards, its colourful tiles and large windows make it far more aesthetically pleasing than the PEC pool. There are separate change rooms from the main locker rooms leading into the pool area. The pool is also fully accessible, with wide stairs leading into it along with a ramp.
LeBlanc said the pool is the showcase piece of the ARC.
“It’s a lot more advanced than the PEC was,” he said. “I think the pool is absolutely phenomenal.”
The cardio facilities, though, are what most gym-goers will notice the most. There are two rooms, each larger than the entire cardio workout area of the PEC.
One room is composed of mainly stationary bikes and Stairmasters. Instead of watching the weather and month-old campus news on a far-away screen, though, there are 16 T.V.s surrounding the room, each hooked up to 12 Bell ExpressVu channels. Users can plug their headphones into a console attached to the machine and choose which channel they want to watch. Attached is a spinning room, with dozens of brand new bikes. The room has a beautiful view of City Hall. LeBlanc said he anticipates a huge demand for spinning.
The other cardio room is devoted to ellipticals and treadmills. There are 40 new machines in this room, each with their own T.V. screen. LeBlanc said each machine costs about the same as the price of a small car.
The main stretching and weights area is about twice the size of the old weight room. About 20 per cent of the PEC’s equipment is going to be moved into the ARC but for now, there’s all new equipment in the room. While the machines themselves are enough to impress, the Queen’s athletics logo emblazoned on all the seats is an extra touch. LeBlanc said the weights aren’t as heavy as the ones in the varsity weight room, but they’re good enough to get a decent workout. Compared to the ancient free weights at the PEC, these are high-tech beyond measure.
LeBlanc said there will be less wait times in the ARC because there’s a lot more equipment.
“Less wait times will allow people to have an overall better workout,” he said.
For those more interested in classes and team activities, there are two huge combative rooms (instead of one) along with four dance studios surrounding the workout area. Each dance studio is wired with a sound system so all you need to do is plug in an iPod rather than bring your own boom box.
On the upper floor, there’s a recreational gym with four basketball courts. The ceilings are sky-high and the window has a view of Princess Towers in the distance. There are curtains that can be pulled to separate each court so games won’t be disturbed if people are just shooting hoops or playing 21. The gym can also be used for volleyball and badminton.
Another innovative facility in the ARC is the Marion Ross Fitness Room on the upper floor. It has a variety of new cardio, weight and stretching equipment and will mainly used by female members.
LeBlanc said there was a large demand for a fitness facility geared towards women.
“We know a lot of women like to work out in the company of women, so being able to have a space that would offer that, we felt was important,” LeBlanc said.
The expected popularity of the ARC is so high that it’s going to offer memberships outside the Queen’s community. In the next couple of weeks, LeBlanc said they’re going to gauge how many more people will use the new gym. He said he thinks it will be used significantly more than the PEC was.
“We estimated that traffic at the PEC was about 15,000 per week. I would not be surprised if that number doubled,” he said.
“If you’re a fitness freak, it’s the place.”
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