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Original Issue


These are rough times for college athletic officials. It's not just the scandals and Title IX disputes. You see, everyone—men, women, students, faculty, good athletes, average athletes—wants to exercise. And they're demanding time, facilities, financing and staffing that aren't always available. The problem is most acute at urban, landlocked universities, which are hard put to provide the three S's: Spending, Space and Security.

Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. has come up with a unique solution, one that could be a model for the nation. What Georgetown did was rip up its football field—it's a Division III school in this sport—dig a deep hole, install a new recreation facility in it and rebuild the football field on the roof. The three S's fell neatly into place. By utilizing land it already owned, the school solved its space problem. Because 85% of the building is underground, where soil temperature remains in the 60s year-round, the building's energy costs are one-third less than those of a comparable above-ground facility. And by computerizing admissions—users must show computer-programmed I.D. cards at the door—the school rid itself of security woes.

There is no sense of being underground at Yates Field House. Beige floors, white walls and glare-free lamps give the interior an open and airy appearance. About two-thirds of the building is a 96,000-square-foot room housing 12 multi-use (basketball, volleyball, tennis) courts, a four-lane jogging track and batting and golf cages. Elsewhere in the four-level structure are squash and handball-racquetball courts, locker rooms, a 25-meter pool with separate diving tank and an exercise-dance floor. On the roof, a nine-lane Chem-Turf track circles the AstroTurf football field. Because there was concern that the roof could not support grandstands, too, the school has experimented with bleachers placed on grassy areas nearby for those who wanted to watch football and other sports played on the field. The viewing wasn't great, but then the idea behind the building was to accommodate athletes, not fans.

As recently as 1975 the school wasn't doing very well by either group. Old McDonough Gym served as both the intercollegiate and intramural facility. The priorities were one-sided: intercollegiate sports all day, intramurals from 9:30 p.m. to 2 a.m. At the same time, women were pouring into the school—they now comprise about half the student body—and everyone was clamoring for exercise.

Conceding the need for a new intramural facility, the school hired as architects Daniel F. Tully Associates, Inc. The estimated $7.2 million cost seemed within range, and in an unusual gesture, the students agreed to help with the $600,000 annual mortgage. Eighty-one percent of them consented to pay an assessment of $30 a semester.

Yates has been open almost a year now, and the results have pleased even the doubtful 19%. About 2,000 of the 10,000 eligible students, faculty and alumni use the building every day, but exercise is only half the story. Students and faculty agree that Yates is also the school's student union. "It's far more successful than anyone ever thought it would be," says the building's director, Denis Kanach. "Some people thought this wasn't the right direction for the school to go. Now they wonder how they ever did without it."