Open house this weekend for UVic’s new $77-million sports complex

The sounds of athletic activity were already echoing through the University of Victoria’s new $77-million sports facility when it officially opened its doors on Friday.

Shoes squeaking on squash and raquetball courts and the whir of exercise machines greeted visitors. In the multipurpose field house, wheelchair basketball, soccer, badminton and table tennis were going on simultaneously, with room to spare.

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Known as the Centre for Athletics, Recreation and Special Abilities, or CARSA, the complex is the new home to varsity sports teams and student programs —and it’s open to the larger community.

“Commitment to community is important to this project,” said Clint Hamilton, UVic’s director of athletics and recreation.

He said the public can purchase memberships that cover a wide range of options, including dance programs, a climbing wall and a two-storey fitness and weight-training area. More could be added. “We’ve been approached by a number of different community organizations … to see what might be possible with CARSA.”

UVic president Jamie Cassels, dressed in workout gear to mark the occasion, said community use was always part of the McKinnon Building — former home to UVic athletics and recreation — and is more of an emphasis now. “This is the most inclusive facility possible,” he said. “We’ve made this facility for our students, we’ve made it for our athletes, we’ve made it for our faculty, our staff, our alumni and every member of the community.”

Varsity athletes are thrilled with CARSA, and are looking forward to taking advantage of everything it provides, said Vikes field hockey player and national-team member Kathleen Leahy. “It’s going to be incredible to have everything we need to be the best student-athletes we can be right here under one roof.”

She said CARSA will have other benefits. “CARSA has given the Vikes programs extra recruiting appeal. We now have a top-notch, elite, high-performance training facility that makes our school a destination for talented athletes, something that excites me when it comes to recruiting the best of the best and strengthening our program further into the future.”

A 2,100-seat gymnasium is due to open this summer.

CARSA is also home to CanAssist, a UVic program that develops equipment and technology to help people with disabilities.

“CanAssist began as a small, informal, volunteer venture in 1999 and has matured over the years to become a viable organization with about 20 staff, who are passionate about helping people of all ages and levels of abilities to increase their independence, their ability to participate and their sense of inclusion,” said CanAssist executive director Robin Syme.

The scope and size of CARSA — it is 190,000 square feet, the size of three football fields — reflects the needs of a growing university, Cassels said.

“Since the year 2000, our student population has grown by more than 4,500 students. That’s greater than a 30 per cent increase. We’ve invested over $300 million during that time in new and renovated academic facilities, completely transforming our campus. But at the same time, our recreational facilities were beginning to show a little bit of wear and tear,” he said.

“We knew that it was necessary to provide upgraded facilities for [varsity sports]. And for those of us who may not be high-performance athletes, we knew that it was absolutely critical to the mission of a university to provide recreational opportunities for everyone to engage in active and healthy living.”

The project includes renovations to the adjacent 40-year-old McKinnon Building, which houses a gymnasium and pool that will remain in use.

Project funding sources include UVic, donors, sponsors and parking fees.

CARSA is hosting an open house today and Sunday, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. both days. Go to vikesrec.uvic.ca for a schedule of activities.

jwbell@timescolonist.com

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