The Belk Gymnasium has hosted a lot of sports activity over the past four decades. Now campus leaders are calling a time out for the 44-year-old building.
Once UNC Charlotte’s only gym and home to the some of the 49ers’ varsity sports teams, the Belk Gym has spent half its life as the campus’ premier setting for student recreation. As one of the oldest buildings on campus, Belk Gym will soon be catching up with the times.
The facility, built in 1970 when there were only a few hundred campus residents, is undergoing renovations that will accommodate the recreational needs of the university’s 26,000 students.
When the $17.1 million project is complete by the start of the fall 2015 semester, the building will have new reconfigured spaces for racquetball, group fitness and locker rooms. New office suites for the Department of Recreational Services and the Department of Kinesiology are also part of the remodeling.
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Construction began on June 2. When it reopens in early July of next year, 60 percent of its interior walls will have been reconstructed and its front entrance will have a new look.
“We are so undersized for 26,000 students,” said Director of Recreational Services Jim Walczyk. “This will take so much pressure off. But we’re still probably 75 percent undersized.”
Affectionately known by some students as “The Mineshaft,” the Belk Gym once served as the home court for Charlotte 49ers men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball.
The men’s team began playing games at the city’s two Charlotte Coliseums in the mid-1970s. The Belk Gym’s other varsity residents moved out when Halton Arena was completed in 1996.
The Belk Gym has long been a favorite destination for students wishing to play “open gym” basketball. Recreational Services staff estimates that a third of its intramural activities take place at Belk. University club sports teams also use the space for practices.
But the Belk Gym has always been much more than a collection of basketball courts. It houses the Kinesiology Department with its four classrooms, and its lower floor includes fitness rooms, racquetball courts and a 25-meter by 25-yard swimming pool, the university’s only pool.
Recreational Services also uses the Barnhardt Student Activities Center and its basketball, volleyball and badminton courts, indoor track and fitness center. Recreational access to the SAC is often inconsistent because of the building’s use by the varsity sports teams.
During the 2014-15 school year, Recreational Services will have to utilize the SAC even more, and staff will have to be more creative in its scheduling. The number of intramural teams is likely to decrease in the interim, and club sports teams will probably have to practice at non-traditional hours.
When the Belk Gym reopens, Walczyk and his staff will be charged with providing recreational opportunities based on its new features.
“We have such a unique student-body, but we want to get a large portion of the 26,000 students in here for at least one activity,” said Walczyk. “We have a big challenge ahead to program this building to meet the students’ needs. It is proven that students who are active have better grades and have better attitudes and those things help with retaining them in school.”
Not only will the new Belk Gym have expanded recreational amenities, it will also be more social-friendly and secure for students. The building’s front entrance will include a second floor commons area that will be open for congregating and studying.
While the first floor lobby will be a much more open space, entrance to the building will be more guarded.
Access to the remodeled facility will require users to show their university identification cards throughout the day. In the past, Recreational Services has been able to staff the checkpoint only in the late afternoon and evenings.